IARPA announces launch of the MIST program

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, announced on January 15 the launch of the Molecular Information Storage (MIST) program. MIST is a multi-year research effort to develop next-generation data storage technologies that can scale into the exabyte (1 million terabyte) regime, and beyond, with significantly reduced physical footprint, power and cost requirements, relative to conventional approaches. The program will pursue this goal by using synthetic DNA as a data storage medium and developing a new category of devices that can write information to, and read from, synthetic DNA media at scale.

The scale and complexity of the world’s big data problems are rapidly increasing. Use cases requiring storage and random access from an exabyte of data are well-established in the private sector and increasingly relevant to the public sector. Meeting these requirements poses logistical and financial challenges. Today’s exabyte-scale data centers, for example, occupy large warehouses, consume megawatts of power, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, operate and maintain. This resource-intensive model limits the availability of exascale storage and future scalability.

“The MIST program is a data storage moonshot to develop technologies that allow us to shrink an exabyte-scale data warehouse down to a tabletop form factor, with equally large reductions in operation and maintenance costs,” said IARPA Program Manager David Markowitz. “This would be a transformative capability for big data stakeholders in government and industry.”

Through a competitive Broad Agency Announcement, IARPA awarded MIST research contracts to teams led by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, as well as the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory will work together to independently test the new systems — drawing on expertise in DNA synthesis, sequencing, nanofabrication, information theory and large-scale file systems.

Source: ODNI