As the infrastructure and capability of the internet has evolved exponentially, so too has the need for vast data storage facilities. It is difficult to comprehend the sheer volume of data that we produce daily. If we continue as we are now, researchers estimate that within three years, humanity will produce 160 trillion gigabytes of data per annum.
This all has to go somewhere, and we are becoming increasingly reliant on cloud storage. Every smart device in the world, including cars, biometric scanners, even fridges, all generate copious amounts of data that need to be stored.
Understanding Cloud Storage’s Role
To the layperson, “cloud storage” sounds like a nebulous, shapeless, gaseous mass of data that simply ceases to exist until it’s needed and recalled. This, obviously, is far from the truth. Every byte of data stored in the cloud, every photo, video, document, and diagnostic record is stored in data centers – huge complexes dedicated to nothing other than data storage and retrieval.
At the rate we’re producing data for everything from work to soccer betting offers online, the data center is becoming an increasingly unsustainable solution. They require vast amounts of energy to run, which has a devastating environmental impact. In a perfect world, only essential and meaningful files would be stored. However, every person with a smartphone has grown comfortable with the idea that their hundreds of selfies, Instagram posts, and blog entries simply vanish into a seemingly limitless cloud. Moreover, the storage requirements for businesses have multiplied even more than the personal.
Towards a Solution
Thankfully, researchers, data scientists, and engineers are well aware of this impending crisis and are hard at work developing more efficient solutions. One example is 5D optical storage, which is being developed at the University of Southampton. This technology involves etching 5-dimensional information into cubes of silicon glass with capacities of hundreds of terabytes. These cubes require no power and retain information indefinitely.
At the University of Manchester, research into cold storage shows great promise. They have produced unique, synthetic molecules that when kept at extremely low temperatures can store vast amounts of data in spaces several hundred times smaller than HDDs or SSDs. Researchers propose using liquid nitrogen as a cooling agent, as it is relatively cheap to produce due to our nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
Another promising avenue involves replicating the way our bodies store genetic information – using DNA. The microscopic double helix is an incredibly effective and condensed structure for storing information, having been perfected over millions of years of evolution. The first breakthrough in this area of inquiry came when Harvard researchers successfully stored a video file’s code on a DNA strand. This incredible achievement has spurred scientists into perfecting artificial DNA storage.
Where To Next?
There is still much speculation on which solutions will prove to be effective, reliable, and scalable, and much work is needed to understand the mechanisms by which these innovative storage structures work. However, one thing is very clear. We need a better solution as soon as possible, or we will soon face a data storage crisis that would have catastrophic consequences.