Monday, October 22, 2012

The Future of Data Storage

In my previous post, I had a nice discussion with the folks at Hindsight Labs.  Christine Meranda saw the future of data as local-based, with cloud synch.  Now that struck me as funny in a way.

Historically Speaking

In the early days of the computer industry, I sold computers that were pretty much an island unto themselves.  Single machines, and in an office setting you might network them together (of course networking meant crawling a wire through the drop ceiling, and soldering the ends together - not to mention buying the networking hardware and paying the services to install and configure it).  The network was to share printers, and maybe a file server to share files within the office, there was no such thing as inter-office network.  So you had this drive on which you saved the file, and you could open it on another computer.  File locking ensured that only one person opened it at a time.

Over the years, as computers became more and more connected, we have evolved to what is now called "Cloud" storage.  Personally I think that is a funny marketing-heavy term for some hard drives on the Internet.  But be that as it may, Secure Common Storage seems to be the way things have been going.  Microsoft has even made quite a product out of SharePoint, and migrated Office to online service-based; Amazon introduced S3; Google had Docs, and now Drive; and so on.  Apple iCloud offers Internet-based backup and synch services.  And the Paprika recipe app offers synch of your app data (incidentally not using iCloud, but their own storage).
So notice that the Apple and Paprika data, for example, are locally stored.  The way iCloud works is you have a local store on your device (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone or iPod), and the Cloud part keeps them in synch by synchronizing updates between the Cloud storage and the device.  This means that if you are disconnected, you still have access to your files (that you have synched).  In contrast, things like Drive and S3 are live online, so you don't have access to them unless you are online.

Now we all know that mobile devices have surged in usage (by that I mean Smart Phones and tablet computers).  By nature, these are not always connected.  Maybe you didn't spring for both the 3G version of the iPad, and the monthly connection charge.  Maybe you are in an area with no WiFi or cellular.  Whatever, it may happen that you want to access your data (i.e. launch Paprika and do something with your recipes) while you are not live online.  I know, it's a shocker to some of us.

What do "They" say?

Having walked through that progression of thought, it seems very logical and obvious that, in a mobile world, what Christine said has to be true.  But it struck me as strange, because that doesn't seem to be the consensus of "they."  That is to say, all the tech blogs we frequent, IT professionals that we talk with, and magazines, news, and other sources seem to be stressing the Cloud.  Basically in Paprika's instance, the data is yours, and it resides primarily on your hardware; the Cloud is used to keep multiple devices in synch.  This is quite different from the Google Drive paradigm.  For example, I created a spreadsheet on Drive called Workout.  I edit my workout routine from my laptop.  While at the gym, I open it on my Phone, and see what the next machine, weight & seat settings are.  I update the weight target as my muscles progress.  When I get back to my laptop, I can open it up and see it again.  The primary storage is in the "cloud" - meaning on a hard drive array in Google's office somewhere connected via Internet.

So in my experience, "they" have missed this key direction the industry seems to be going in - or at the very least, haven't caught on to the full meaning.  First of all, who has used Google Docs extensively?  Other than the cool ability to instantly share and collaborate on a document, let's face it, the abilities of the word processor and spreadsheet, frankly, suck eggs.  And they are a whole lot worse on the mobile device (e.g. iPhone or iPad).  The formulas don't even update!

Christine I think has hit it right.  Local apps with synched data.  Perhaps the ability like Amazon Kindle app, to remove local copy to free up local storage, and download it again later is the way to go.  As we design apps (and indicate to developers our desires as consumers and focus groups), we can stress both the connectedness, and the ability to operate disconnected, as well as the choice to what to carry with us.


  1. I really liked your blog, appreciate the great information about data storage.
    many thanks...
    Online documents storage

  2. Storage has definitely moved from the paper to the Web. And I think this change is good, since people will have lots of space to store their data. But what I like about this cloud storage system is the security it provides to protect one’s data, as these online storage systems have a complex series of data protection.

  3. Thanks all for the comments. @Ruby, I feel much less secure than you about cloud security. Yes, perhaps some third party might find it difficult to hack in, but the cloud service provider definitely has access to whatever you store on their devices. If the Department of Justice sees fit to subpoena your data, or something less legal than subpoenas, then they surely can get into it if they desire. What about Google, who's to say they aren't reading all those documents you store in Google Drive? There really is no one to watch the watchers, and no way to know that your security has been compromised that I can see.

  4. Another aspect that occurs to me. Most sites use a very simple password authentication, so that if your password is hacked, intruders are in like Flynn. Typically people don't change their passwords frequently, and use the same password across sites and services. On the other hand, services like Dropbox offer a "random" passkey authentication. You sign your login to a passkey generator that generates a new, pseudo-random key every 30 seconds. You need to log in with your e-mail, password, and the passkey (which I chose to use Google Authenticator app on my iPhone to generate the keys). This is quite a bit more secure, but still not hack-proof. Also, who's to say Dropbox isn't snooping on the data I store there?