The Tera Era - Bigger Disks, Bigger Risks

The famous Hitachi TravelStar

In 2008 several disk storage companies presented their hard disks in the TB (Tera Byte) range. Even in the in 2,5" "laptop size", 1 TB SATA hard disks are now available. The famous Hitachi TravelStar range, specially for laptops, now goes up to "only" 500 GB - this with reduced power consumption to save batteries. All this to respond to the ever increasing demand to store even more space consuming pictures, songs, movies on a single disk.

Hitachi 1 Tera Byte 2.5" harddiskWith already mind boggling information density on magnetic media (the disk) the question of robustness and reliability might just start to linger in the back of the mind. Even in the GB (Giga Byte) era, which lasted only shortly, loosing 80 GB byte's worth of data is a LOT. Imagine the loss when a disk of 1 TB dies? That's worth at least a few years of pictures, songs, software and movies.

This brings upon the question of redundancy, meaning backups to mitigate harddisk failure. In the GB world, a single 80 GB disk backup is a still big backup for the weary laptop owner. With disks of 250 GB in laptops, one comes to think, how to safeguard so much data against simple disk failure? What was it again about higher information density, reliability and robustness? Bigger disks, Bigger risks.

RAID - Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks

In the business world this question has been answered long ago. It's called RAID - Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks - and comes in several flavors. The technique overcomes single disk failure and works by having several disks run in parallel all doing the same thing. When one disk fails, the RAID system continues with the remaining disks.

HP ProLiant DL180 G5 Server with internal RAIDWith hard disk's of the size of several TB, a single manual backup becomes a nightmare. It's costly and takes a long time, specially over slow USB connections. The "human RAID" is very ineffective, the job is never done.

With the Tera Era on the doorstep, RAID solutions for the consumer market might become reality. Who has lost a few GB's worth of data without having recent backups? GB storage causalities are there already, however the damage is not yet sufficient for a major outcry. One can still live with loosing a few 100's of Mb of pictures. Now wait a few years more - loosing a 1 TB disk is a painful event....

But consumer RAID solutions is not the only scenario in the Tera Era. The other is on-line storage, probably a more feasible route for consumers - assuming access to speedy broadband Internet connection, outsourcing the difficulty of handling large amounts of private data. Hmmm, but what about information security? For narrow band laptop travelers - it's still rare to have access to a fast connection in the Middle-East and Asia to upload a few 100 Gb's of data in a few hours. It doesn't exist (yet).


Solid State Harddrive's

Intel's X25-E Extreme solid-state driveSo what's left? Solid State Harddrive's! The solution that doesn't suffer from mechanical harddisk failures.In storage volume it's a few years back in time. 160 Gb of harddrive is still expensive, and will always be like that compared to harddisk's. Access speed is another issue - which most likely will be fixed in the years to come.

For the time being, humble 80 Gb disks might still do the job for the laptop traveler. It will take a while before the majority of laptop users passes the 1 TB line. Till then there's time to think bout how to backup so much data while moving around the globe. Undoubtedly the solution will be there, maybe even with encryption on the side to keep your data yours.