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 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 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  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. On-demand music comes from Spotify. Movies come from Netflix. TV comes from Hulu. The home phone is Skype. And for everything else, there’s Amazon. 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!


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