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The Future of - Online/Remote Data Storage

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/4/2009

In our first article for the new "Future Hardware" series, we look at how online data storage and retrieval will change the way you use your PC.

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    Remote Access Confirmed

    We kick off our four-part Future Hardware Series by looking at the technological innovations that lie ahead for data storage. What will the future hold for online or remote storage? That and so much more inside.

    We often take for granted our current mediums of storage, the hard drive and solid-state drive. These integral pieces of technology power our thirst for knowledge and the storage of information. Everything from photos to music to movies to written documents can be found occupying megabytes (if not gigabytes or terabytes) of space inside hard drives. But what happens when the hard drive ceases to become such an integral part of the PC? What role does the Internet have to play in how we access our data?

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    Data Storage from Afar

    Networked hard drives and server farms are nothing new to the vernacular of a PC enthusiast. As a matter of fact, today’s modern PC enthusiast is more and more likely to build his or her own home server to deal with all the downloading and streaming that occurs from the Internet. But how do we handle a future that’s completely hard-drive-less?

    As the Internet takes prominence in our lives ever further and communication becomes pivotal to the way we live and work, why not have a hard drive in the future that is run from the Internet entirely?

    Here is the concept: your computer, rather than taking boot orders from a local hard drive, has the information come in through an Ethernet wire directly from the Internet. A hardware intermediary may be necessary, but you’d essentially be renting hard drive space in a server farm the same way a company would rent space in a server farm for their data needs.

    In such a scenario, you’d truly be booting from the Internet and straight into your RAM. Because the hard drive is offsite, the maintenance on the drives would be performed by a company rather than yourself. Viruses wouldn’t be an issue because all the data would be kept behind a completely secure hardware firewall installed in the storage company’s Internet infrastructure.

    But how close are we to this reality really?

    Pretty far away, actually. The main problem is the speed with which the Internet currently operates. At maximum, a broadband DSL line, which is the most common Internet connection for the type of user that would want this form of data storage, can operate at a few Mbps, whereas a SATA transfer cable can operate upwards of 20-30 Mbps, if not higher. This means that the data received from the Internet would be significantly slower than the data received over a local connection.

    For the type of speed necessary to make such a radical idea work, we still need a few more generations of fiber optics developments, or perhaps an over-the-air solution like the WiMAX standard of networking. Regardless, the speed difference is one we won’t be approaching for at least the better part of ten years or so.

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    Data Storage in the Clouds

    But booting from a hard drive wouldn’t be the end-all or be-all of a remote data solution. Rather, companies are moving towards the “cloud storage” solution. In the same way cloud computing would work, your data would exist in the “cloud,” a theoretical storage space that is spread across a server farm where your data only exists in a single location the minute you decide to pull it from the cloud. Until you issue the command for the data, the data exists as electrons do in real-life clouds, hopping from point to point in order to be a more practical and secure solution for data storage.

    The cloud currently exists, and it’s quite a fascinating thing to witness. For instance, the popular multiplayer game Left 4 Dead has a feature where your progress and stats are all tracked through the cloud rather than locally, allowing you to seamlessly play the game across machines without needing to copy over any files or extra information.

    What we’re accomplishing with games today may soon be taking over as an excellent storage solution as well.

    Here’s a scenario I like to imagine: in the future, if your hard drive is starting to run out of space for your documents, photos, and music, instead of buying a new hard drive, you expand your storage capacity in the cloud and throw your files into the cloud to be later retrieved. The cloud could even potentially stream your files straight to a media server for you to watch later on.

    In the next article, we’ll be looking at how physical data storage is taking a turn for the future and giving online “cloud” storage a run for its money.

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    More Reading

    For those looking for current online storage solutions, check out this article

    For those interested in what a NAS (network-attached storage) is capable of doing, check out this article

    Finally, for those looking to secure their NAS drives, check out this article

Future Hardware

A new series looking at where the future will take existing hardware solutions. Topics range from data storage on online servers to peripherals (such as mice and keyboards).
  1. The Future of - Online/Remote Data Storage
  2. The Future of - Internal/External Data Storage
  3. The Future of - Keyboards
  4. The Future of - Mice