A new magnetic material could boost the storage capacity and processing speed of hard drives used in cloud-based servers. This could enable users of cloud data systems to load large files in seconds instead of minutes.

The material — a single-molecule magnet — is composed mainly of manganese. A chemical bond that gives the compound its magnetic properties can be controlled by shining rapid pulses from a laser on it. Data could be stored and accessed on the magnets using laser pulses lasting one millionth of a billionth of a second. This could enable hard drives fitted with the magnets to process data up to 100 times faster than current technologies. The development could also improve the energy efficiency of cloud computing systems, which collectively emit as much carbon as the aviation industry.

Existing hard drives store data using a magnetic field generated by passing an electric current through a wire, which generates a lot of heat. Replacing this with a laser-activated mechanism would be more energy-efficient as it does not produce heat.

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