Blog Post

When will broadband finally kill local storage?

One of the great things about moving into my new apartment is that I finally have a home office. There are no papers floating around the house. No lose pieces of email. No computers idling in the living room. My bedroom is a screen-free zone. And more importantly, I have room to walk around, pace and think as I try to come up with words.

As part of the new office, I got myself a brand-new, top-of-the-line iMac. It is a stunningly beautiful machine and has made a huge difference in my productivity. The big screen allows me to multitask better, and video chatting with my colleagues is more immersive. However, there’s one thing I don’t like about this new computer: It’s noisy.

Eternal question: why do hard drives die

Being a Macbook Air user and a devotee of solid-state storage, I find the noise of the hard drive whirring a big distraction and painful reminder that the flash-memory revolution is far from complete. I wonder if the computer is constantly trying to index itself or if there’s something wrong with the hard drive. I have lost so many drives and so much data over past few years that I worry about backing up my backups. Now that’s just insane.

A software upgrade from Buffalo Tech for some odd reason nuked one of their network drives and out went my backups. Another Western Digital (s wdc) back-up drive died suddenly, without explanation.

After all these decades, hard drives are still a mystery, and their failure is unpredictable. Wikipedia offers a more human explanation for Why hard disks fail. There are many factors involved: temperature, usage, and errors in how the disks are manufactured. In 2007, Eduardo Pinherio, Wolf-Dietrich Weber and Luiz Barroso of Google (s goog) conducted a study on more than 100,000 disk drives of varying speeds and capacities and didn’t surface any concrete reason. In other words, their study wasn’t conclusive enough.

Today, I carry around a lone Porsche Design Lacie drive that has lasted me five years, but at 100 megabytes, it’s puny, and I use it for almost nothing! The uncertainty that comes with hard drives is one of the reasons I have slowly banished them from my life. There was a time when I had a terabyte at home. It grew many times over. I used to have a Drobo. It’s being used for backups in the office.

From gigabytes to megabits

My 100 Mbps broadband connection without any caps means I now back up all my computer’s drive to a cloud location relatively easily. The Apple TimeCapusle (s aapl) has now been reduced to a WiFi router and a switch. This is very different from my life as recently as 2009 when the 128 GB SSD on an Air wasn’t enough.

Today, there is very little need for me to have any in-home storage. My documents live in Dropbox and Google Office. My photos get backed up to iCloud. Radio comes from Pandora. (s P) On-demand music comes from Spotify. Movies come from Netflix. (s nflx) TV comes from Hulu. The home phone is Skype. (s msft) And for everything else, there’s Amazon. (s amzn) The lesson of the story? If you have a fast enough broadband connection, you don’t need hard drives.

Now I understand that today not everyone in the U.S. can get a 100 Mbps connection to their home, and even when they can, it’s an expensive proposition. However we will, if not today, then in a few years. We are on our way. The rest of the world is inching toward a 1 Gbps connection, and in many countries, at very low prices. When that happens, there will be no need for local storage. What you’re going to need is an app that helps you manage your in-home bandwidth. (Stacey wrote about this recently.)

This broadband-enabled change is going to have an impact, and we’ll discuss some of this with Drew Houston, CEO and Co-Founder of DropBox and Silicon Valley legend Andy Bechtolsheim at our inaugural GigaOM RoadMap conference in San Francisco on November 10.

And as for my dislike for the hard drives, I should have ordered an iMac with a SSD drive!

24 Responses to “When will broadband finally kill local storage?”

  1. Z-liberator

    Local storage will not disappear until data compression technology is improved, example compressing 1TB file to a 1GIG. Only then will the cloud open up to us and that will be soon.

  2. Are the cloud providers going to agree to legally binding contracts that your data will never be deleted, looked at by anyone at the company, turned over to law enforcement without a valid warrant, or otherwise become unavailable to you?

    What happens if the company goes out of business? And how do you use cloud storage when all the major ISPs are moving to capped monthly usage?

    As for noisy systems; My custom-built system (put together by a friend) has two hard drives and four fans (two case fans, CPU fan and PS fan) and you can barely hear it.

    • Z-liberator

      Embrace technology, All my docs are backed up online Gdocs/Dropbox/Gmail/Outlook. If I need something I go to the cloud. Security? Overrated. Dont keep things you cant part from on a computer. Period, I can hack any phone (except Blackberries) just by being 25ft from you. I can post a Google Live Street View of your house by tracking u thru your comment. “Dont put what you cant part with on the internet”

      • I don’t have a “smart phone”, but I’d love to see the Google Live Street View of my house. Personally, I don’t think you can so it, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. With the address obscured, please.

  3. Vaudevillian

    I havent had a hard drive die in 7 years and there is 12 hard drives total in this house. Do you use them for frisbee’s? In my main work machine I got 3 hard drives running 3 page files and its been like that 6 years. No dead drives. It really surprises me how people treat their hardware.

  4. Android Helpers

    Um, security is a damned good reason. Anytime ANYTHING get’s transmitted it can (and often is) intercepted no matter what “security” measures are taken.

  5. Sheez, the last 100mbps connection I signed up for was $8k US per month, after much haggling with the vendor. My measly 15mbps cable connection at home is $40 per month (and only sees about 5mpbs max download speeds). Guess I’ll be using a USB device for backup for a while.

  6. How can anyone transcode video, or do any serious graphics work without local storage ? How can anyone play games without GB of local textures ?
    Dumb terminals were a goal many years ago, it’s just a dumb idea.

  7. Go down to Western MacArthur in east San Jose and get a couple of sheets of OC703 rigid fiberglass insullation. Then wrap them in some fabric remnants that you like the look of and hang them on the wall behind the computer. This is the same thing as the expensive sound deadening things hanging on the walls in theaters and recording studios and works much better than foam (in addition to not catching fire like a Great White show).

    I’m not sure what is in your iMac but I used to be in the HDD industry and acoustic noise is a big design goal. FWIW, I can hear the fan in my ThinkPad all the time and never noticed the HDD.

  8. Kevin Marks

    Broadband won’t kill local storage. We’re in a transition between spinning metal and solid state local storage, so it feels scares, making remote storage temporarily more attractive. As we get better at merging local and remote, caching lots locally will make sense again.

  9. So when when a 1 TB memristor-based USB 3.0 drive costs $15 (maybe in 3 years), will you still be willing to pay a cloud storage service $50 or $100 per YEAR to access your data? I realize you have 100 Mbps, but I would place a large bet that you NEVER see anywhere near a sustained 100 Mbps connection with any server on the internet (I have 50 Mbps cable service, and still have to wait for videos to buffer some time, which are only about 5 Mbps or so).

    And even though you have 100 Mbps service, most people in the US are still stuck with 5 Mbps or less. Two of the biggest wireline service providers, ATT and Verizon, have been trying to convince consumers and regulators that they won’t need to offer fiber or even VDSL, because LTE (capped and more expensive) is going to be real fast. This, of course, ignores the fact that wireless networks are shared mediums, not switched like DSL or fiber, and will never attain the same performance.

    Then throw in the legislation that is currently floating around DC that would give big companies all kinds of power over computers connected to the internet (don’t believe that it will only impact websites), and tell me how comfortable you will be storing everything on a server that can be shut down or cut off without any due process.

    No, local storage is not going away.

  10. I think things will move to the cloud grouped by category. Each category has it’s own dynamics. Your music will move (ie. Pandora). Your photos will move (ie. Your docs will move (Google docs/Dropbox).

    Harddrives will just slowly become less and less relevant.

    In a few years, you’ll wonder why you haven’t bought a harddrive in years. And the answer will be: you won’t need to anymore, because so much of your stuff is in the cloud.

  11. > 100 Mbps connection to their home…is an expensive proposition.

    ..and that’s only half of the equation. Add on $18 for each 100gb transfered, and that could get to be a real pricey proposition. What’s the likelihood the bandwidth guys are going to start pushing cost down as consumption goes up?

  12. Greg Glockner

    Simple answer: cloud storage is waiting for (a) more residential bandwidth (b) raising or eliminating bandwidth caps. Until then, the only viable alternative is local storage.

    • physical

      This is accurate. Until we can store gigs and gigs of data offsite, and access that data almost instantly, there will be a need for local storage.

      Even then, we still will have a need for a local cache, as it is unlikely that providers will be capable of providing sufficient uptime. (Wouldn’t it suck to lose 2 days of using your computer at all because your internet connection is down?)

      Even if we all had 100Mbps connections, it wouldn’t matter much, as the majority of websites are throttled at significantly less than that to offer a better user experience to everyone. Infrastructure on the internet will need to improve along with residential access speeds.