The demand for cloud-based storage is growing rapidly, with online solutions meeting the needs of businesses and individuals alike. But how sustainable is this in the long term, and what challenges do providers need to overcome? Now is the time to consider how the digitization of information will evolve.
Dealing with Data
The creation of data can be an intended end goal in its own right or the by-product of an action taken within the digital ecosystem. Whatever the case there is a need to store it.
In the past most data would be stored locally – held on the hard drives and memory cards of devices until required. The increase of broadband connectivity has made online data storage a practical option for everyone.
Estimating the amount of data which is generated each day is difficult, but some estimates put it at 2.5 quintillion bytes. Search giant Google alone has to handle over 3.5 billion queries each day, as well as store more than 10 billion gigabytes of data for its users.
Since almost half the world's population has access to the internet in some shape or form, accounting for over 3.3 billion people, these figures relating to the daunting mountain of data that is piling up should be unsurprising. But that does not make them any more manageable, particularly in terms of the logistics involved with storage.
The solution to the world's data problem current lies within the massive facilities which are constantly being built to house the server hardware on which digital information can find a home.
There are data centers belonging to and used by single organizations, such as Facebook, as well as centers built to sell storage as a service to third parties. More capacity is being added on a perpetual basis to keep up with the pace at which data is being created.
The infrastructural limits of relying on traditional storage methods, including hard drives which are housed in data centers, are well known. However there are other considerations which have to be taken into account, such as the impact of downtime and unplanned outages and the effect that can have on those that rely on remote storage methods.
Hardware faults, power problems and the bottleneck that is network connectivity all come into play. There are fears that committing so much of human knowledge to such an arguably fragile infrastructure, illuminated further by historical obsolescence, could lead to dire consequences in the future.
While digital technology may have created a conundrum with relation to data storage, it will unduly be the source of the solution as well. With new storage media being searched by many companies and academic teams, the future is far from bleak.
Researchers at the University of Southampton recently unveiled a so-called 'eternal' storage solution which uses lasers to create a nanostructure of dots within a disc the size of a small coin, enabling up to 360 terabytes of information to be stored on a medium which is significantly more durable than a floppy disc, DVD or hard drive.
Experts claim that the disc-shaped crystals can remain thermally stable at temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius, and if kept at a slightly more reasonable temperature of 190 degrees, will be able to survive for 13.8 billion years.
This is just one example of how both the issues of capacity and durability in data storage might be addressed – two pertinent points that are widely discussed with relation to the industry.
From the perspective of a business or individual, the online storage of data is far more sustainable than the local alternatives, both in terms of scalability and cost. Making data centers sustainable is something that providers must pursue.
Sustainability from an ecological point must also not be overlooked. But the benefits of online solutions outweigh many of the potential negative impacts.