7 grand challenges for the next storage century

Clock tower (4) by TJ Morris (cc) (from flickr)
Clock tower (4) by TJ Morris (cc) (from flickr)

I saw a recent IEEE Spectrum article on engineering’s grand challenges for the next century and thought something similar should be done for data storage. So this is a start:

  • Replace magnetic storage – most predictions show that magnetic disk storage has another 25 years and magnetic tape another decade after that before they run out of steam. Such end-dates have been wrong before but it is unlikely that we will be using disk or tape 50 years from now. Some sort of solid state device seems most probable as the next evolution of storage. I doubt this will be NAND considering its write endurance and other long-term reliability issues but if such issues could be re-solved maybe it could replace magnetic storage.
  • 1000 year storage – paper can be printed today with non-acidic based ink and retain its image for over a 1000 years. Nothing in data storage today can claim much more than a 100 year longevity. The world needs data storage that lasts much longer than 100 years.
  • Zero energy storage – today SSD/NAND and rotating magnetic media consume energy constantly in order to be accessible. Ultimately, the world needs some sort of storage that only consumes energy when read or written or such storage would provide “online access with offline power consumption”.
  • Convergent fabrics running divergent protocols – whether it’s ethernet, infiniband, FC, or something new, all fabrics should be able to handle any and all storage (and datacenter) protocols. The internet has become so ubiquitous becauset it handles just about any protocol we throw at it. We need the same or something similar for datacenter fabrics.
  • Securing data – securing books or paper is relatively straightforward today, just throw them in a vault/safety deposit box. Securing data seems simple but yet is not widely used today. It doesn’t have to be that way. We need better, more long lasting tools and methodology to secure our data.
  • Public data repositories – libraries exist to provide access to the output of society in the form of books, magazines, papers and other printed artifacts. No such repository exists today for data. Society would be better served if we could store and retrieve data if there were library like institutions could store data. Most of these issues are legal due to data ownership but technological issues exist here as well.
  • Associative accessed storage – Sequential and random access have been around for over half a century now. Associative storage could complement these and be another approach allowing storage to be retrieved by its content. We can kind of do this today by keywording and indexing data. Biological memory is accessed associations or linkages to other concepts, once accessed memory seem almost sequentially accessed from there. Something comparable to biological memory may be required to build more intelligent machines.

Some of these are already being pursued and yet others receive no interest today. Nonetheless, I believe they all deserve investigation, if storage is to continue to serve its primary role to society, as a long term storehouse for society’s culture, thoughts and deeds.