Hope for us digital packrats

Scientific American once ran an article about how the data growth vector was rising faster than the storage density vector and how at some point in the not-too-distant future, mankind's ability to create electronic data would outrun his ability to actually store it. I laughed and thought to myself that the future is now. There's data everywhere just begging for a storage device to capture it. Then I sobered up when I realized that mankind's strange propensity for saving all things digital forever was perhaps at least one of the points of this article.

Why is it so hard to just say "delete"? Pushing the delete key forces us to make an impossible decision. Because we can't think of a time when we will never need that file, we default to figuring that we may need it someday and just "let it spin." It's like we're genetically destined to be digital packrats.

Yesterday, I read an article that shines a ray of hope into the yawning digital cavern we're building (because we don't know what else to do). It suggests that the storage density vector could be tilted upward by quite a few notches using ferroelectric memory -- barium titanium oxide nanowires suspended in water -- that could produce storage densities of up to 12.8 million gigabytes per square centimeter. And, the article goes on to state, it could be as fast as today's RAM storage. Truly awesome.

On the other hand, I'm old and jaded. I've been a big fan of holographic storage for years -- year after year after year. Looking at ferroelectric storage, I get that same deja vu feeling all over again. When will we see it?

In the mean time, there's perpendicular disk. Hitachi, for example, expects to ship 3.5-in./1TB perpendicular drives next year, and that's just the beginning. Perpendicular should be enough to keep fingers off delete keys for a while. Yes, I'm bound by some analyst edict to tell you that finding the capacity is not the issue and that it's really all about finding the time to manage it, making sure you can retrieve data when you need it, protecting information, etc. But like you, I'm out of time.

John Webster is senior analyst and founder of research firm Data Mobility Group LLC. He is also the author of numerous articles and white papers on a wide range of topics and is the co-author of the book Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence (IBM Press, 2005). Webster can be reached at jwebster@datamobilitygroup.com.