A World of Unlimited Storage

The creative, inner IT person in me can think of other ways to use that extra petabyte of storage we'll soon have at our disposal.

Auntie doesn't know about you, but I've got one of those closets here. You know, the one with the half-dozen old PCs stacked in the back that I can't bear to part with even though P-166 towers are about $25 each on eBay, as well as old magazines, books on Pascal programming, and the pom poms from her high-school cheerleading career (brown and gold in honor of our team: the Cicadas). Just last week I was trying to cram in one more dead (but fixable!) monitor, and dear Fabio happened to remark that what I needed was a closet with unlimited storage space.

Well, we don't have that sort of storage for things made out of atoms yet, but we're sure getting there for things made out of bits. You're as aware as I am of the plummeting price and increasing size of hard drive storage, to the point where we can fit terabytes in tidy boxes and those of us on the bleeding edge are thinking about portable petabytes. So far, though, the proposed uses of all this storage strike this brainstorming gal as rather uninspired. Everyone wants to cram all the songs and movies they've ever experienced into the next portable device. Microsoft makes noises about recording all the details of every meeting you've ever been in (as if there were no meetings that I'd like to forget) or even of your entire life (so you could then spend another life reliving it, I guess). Surely as MCSEs, we can come up with better uses for practically unlimited storage.

For starters, how about saving nightly snapshots of the hard drive of every user in your organization? No, not for backups; we've all got strategies for backing up data files already. But imagine the satisfaction from being able to say, "Well, actually, you did change something. Back here on August 3rd you installed the latest shoot-'em-up software in what you thought was a hidden directory, and it destroyed the approved video drivers." No more whining from users insisting that the software just broke for no reason at all. Or at least no more need to put up with it. But remember, if you're going to rub people's noses in their own mistakes, you should not pick the people who sign your paycheck.

Then, why not mirror the entire Internet to a local server? Set a Web spider or six to hunting around and grabbing every page you could possibly need from out there. That way, when you need support information, you won't have to wait for the time-consuming process of downloading it. Every Knowledge Base article and hardware driver you could ever need will be right there in your own office, along with, um, everything else. Just make sure you don't put the mirror server itself on the Internet. That would create an infinite regress and probably suck us all into a black hole.

Finally, there's a boon lurking here for network security. You may already be using an application such as Snort to watch for dangerous traffic on your network; such intrusion detection software is becoming increasingly popular. But this software will only find attacks that you know about in advance. What do you do when a new vulnerability is revealed and you don't know if your servers were hit or not? Well, in the future, you can just store all of the network traffic that crosses the router to the Internet, so you can go back and analyze it at your leisure. But perhaps you'd better not tell your boss about this one, lest you be subject to pressures to determine exactly which employees have been spending time in chat rooms or looking at forbidden Web sites.

Of course, there's another problem with that closet beyond its lack of storage space. Already Auntie has so much stored in there that she can never find anything when she's looking for it. So when you're bolting all those extra NAS servers on to your network, keep an eye out for good indexing software. You're going to need it.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Aug 4, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

What I'm looking forward to more than size is access speed. Eventually it'll be getting close to that of RAM, at which point you won't need RAM anymore; just set aside a few or 15 gigs of hard drive space for vitrual memory.

Tue, Aug 3, 2004 navaro Phila, Pa

How about a ferret to go out there on the internet an get every spam email that there ever was and all of them to each spammers ad and return address on the internet. Without creating the infamous cycle-back. By the way just heard tha Steven Hawkings said, he was WRONG about black holes. The don't exist!

Tue, Jul 27, 2004 Rick Maine

Sadly, unlimited storage doesn't solve some real-world problems.

Mirroring the Internet to a local server gets you out-of-date copies of everything that changes daily. I don't need copies of last week's virus signature files.

Having multiple images of user's hard drives is interesting, but how do we do decent forensics to isolate problems? Can you find me a tool to compare images and identify changes reliably? Such a tool has to do directory comparisons, file versions, and registry checking. That sounds like at least two tools to me. Group Policies look better and better. Solve the problem before it occurs. Post-mortems don't improve your own image with the CFO if his notebook is rebooting after he's installed the wrong drivers. Again.

Overall, unlimited storage seems cool. But an unlimited closet is the place where you (and the rest of the family/company/world) keep the clothes you won't ever wear again, the tennis racket the strings are drying out on, the old microwave that cooks everything on the left and nothing on the right, and every dull knife and broken chisel you're too lazy or dumb to sharpen or replace.

Unlimited storage for what? Trash? Gee, a Recycle Bin that works on the server?

Wait, I had one of those once... Oh yeah, that old Novell server. Darn, where is that thing?


Mon, Jul 26, 2004 Jorge Anjos Portugal

I still don't see what the heck will you do with such an imense hard drive. Of course it will fit in some scenarios (and probably you mentioned one or two) but still, there are more important issues to address before that so-called golden age comes. For example: improving hard-drives performance, building software that finds stuff fast (locally or remotally), and a storage protocol that really fits into our current needs - the linear nature of fat and ntfs doesn't directly match the hierarchical nature of windows and linux folders. And by the way: endless storage capacity on the client-side would mean petabytes of duplicate data on every computer. It might sound good to take on the offline road, but still it would create more synchronization problems, among others. Wouldn't it to be great to have a central repositorium for information?

Mon, Jul 26, 2004 Gary Nickerson Anonymous

You hit it right on the nose.

Mon, Jul 26, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Bill Michaelson is right...

Mon, Jul 26, 2004 Bill Michaelson Texas

Unlimited storage is good in one aspect but far more derleterious in another. There was a time when programmers had to write their code tight and clean because of limited storage space. Now that they have all the space that they want, the code will tend to be a bit sloppy or not as clean as it could be only because the unlimited storage space will allow for a few bugs in the system.

Sun, Jul 11, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I couldn't stand to get rid of the old PCs so I turned them into disk servers, worked well. Got the software from DataCore at www.datacore.com

Wed, Jul 7, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Hey Auntie,

Why don't you go lock yourself in the closet!

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