Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery


February 13, 2012  11:46 PM

Experimenters Set Stage for Real Real Fast Disk Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

A few weeks ago, we were hearing all about how IBM researchers were developing teeny-weeny disk storage. Now we’re hearing about how other researchers are developing really fast disk storage. Unfortunately, the two technologies aren’t compatible, so you’ll have to settle for small or fast, not both. Noted one York University researcher in the multinational team:

Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption.”

According to ScienceNOW, this is how it works:

[L]aser light heats up the gadolinium-iron alloy so incredibly fast—in 1/10,000 of a nanosecond—that at first only the iron atoms lose their mass orientation. The gadolinium atoms react more slowly in losing their magnetization. And once the iron atoms get hot enough and are free to pivot around, they prefer to align in the same direction as the gadolinium atoms. Then, as the material quickly cools and the orientations of the atoms freeze up, the iron and gadolinium atoms again prefer to point in opposite directions. But this time, it’s the slow-cooling gadoliniums that flip leading to a predictable overall reversal in the material’s magnetization.”

There’s only one problem. Remember the jokes about “write-only memory“? Turns out that, at least for the moment, that’s what the laser storage produces, because it isn’t clear how to read it again. “The only problem, at this point, is that while lasers are great at writing magnetic data, reading it is another challenge entirely,” notes DVICE.com. “The researchers seem to have used a fancy type of X-ray spectrometer that can read magnetic fields to check and see if they were writing the data that they thought they were, but until those get shrunk down to HDD component size (or someone comes up with something clever), we may be stuck just writing our data really really fast and not reading it ever again.”


February 9, 2012  11:26 PM

Storage Industry Loses One of Its Stars

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Neither the storage industry nor the state of Idaho are known for having flashy technical CEOs like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, but they both lost one last Friday when Micron CEO Steve Appleton died unexpectedly in a crash of his plane.

A daredevil and adrenalin junkie who excelled in tennis, scuba diving, surfing, wakeboarding, motorcycling, off-road car racing, taekwondo, and aviation, who had already survived a crash in 2004, the 51-year-old Appleton was named one of the worst CEOs in the country by Forbes at the same time that Fortune was naming Micron one of the most-admired companies in the nation. Some criticized him for his salary, while others said it was not out of line in the heavily cyclical DRAM industry.

Raised in California, Appleton attended Boise State University and began working for Micron soon after graduation, eventually working himself up to president, chairman, and CEO in 1994, making him one of the nation’s youngest CEOs. According to Jim Handy of Objective Analysis:

Under his guidance the company became the last surviving US DRAM manufacturer and turned around a number of failing DRAM businesses it acquired from Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Qimonda, and others, while investing in businesses outside of its core DRAM strength including a recent acquisition of NOR maker Numonyx.  One particularly successful investment has been Micron’s IMFT joint venture with Intel for the manufacture of NAND flash.

While the company’s chips were used in a variety of products, its own consumer brand is Lexar.

In Idaho, Micron was a major employer and, along with HP, helped form Boise’s nascent technology community. Due to the company’s innovations and the state’s small population, Idaho often ranked at or near the top in lists of numbers of patents per capita.

Unlike some other superstar tech CEOs, however, Appleton was known for his philanthropic efforts — for example, donating money to Boise State for its tennis courts and for a business and economics building to be named after Micron, still under construction. The company’s Micron Foundation also donated to the College of Western Idaho community college, founded just a few years ago.

Appleton is survived by a wife and four children. The board has named as CEO former president and COO Mark Durcan — who had just announced his retirement a week before.


January 31, 2012  4:38 PM

MegaUpload Seizure Mega Bummer for Legitimate Users

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

In case you needed proof of what the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) bill could have done, the U.S. government went on a few days after SOPA was withdrawn and shut down a website, claiming it was used to disseminate copyrighted content such as movies and television programs.

“The domain name associated with the website Megaupload.com has been seized pursuant to an order issued by a U.S. District Court. A federal grand jury has indicted several individuals and entities allegedly involved in the operation of Megaupload.com and related websites charging them with the following federal crimes,” including copyright infringement, racketeering, and conspiracy, reads a notice on the website.

Regardless of the merits of that case in specific, the bigger issue is, what about the users of the site — reportedly up to 50 million of them — who were using it for completely legitimate purposes?

Or, as we wrote last year:

And think of how this would play with the new PROTECT-IP bill that’s being proposed, which would let a third party shut down a site for having a copy of its intellectual property: Viacom, say, uploads a copy of a movie it suspects is available on Dropbox, finds it’s already there, demands to know who it owns it, and then shuts down that company’s site — potentially all without ever getting a warrant, because if Dropbox won’t tell, Viacom can shut *it* down for having a copy of the file. And if Dropbox gets shut down, what happens to all its other, innocent users’ files?

Data on the MegaUpload servers was scheduled to be deleted as soon as February 2, but the companies that own the servers have agreed to wait at least two weeks in hopes of developing a way that legitimate users can get access to their files. The companies are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and have set up a website to collect users who might have lost access to their data.

But the logistics of this might be complex, noted Time.

It’s also unclear how users would get their data back even if Megaupload and the government came to an agreement. Would they simply open the site again with uploads and sign ups disabled, or come up with some other way to access the data? And how would they ensure that users weren’t helping themselves to content that infringes copyrights? Any method would require time and development efforts — the process could easily get messy.


January 26, 2012  8:24 PM

LegalTech NY Brings Out Lots of E-Discovery Announcements

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

It’s not quite as big as CES or CeBIT, but all the legal geeks will be partying down in New York next week during LegalTech NY. Hide the breakables.

It also means that every e-discovery company will be crawling out of the woodwork to tout (as opposed to tort — did you see what I did there?) its wares. Announcements include the following:

Demonstrating products but not announcing anything new will be Omtool and Pitney Bowes. For other announcements during the show, follow the #ltny hashtag on Twitter.

Remember, what happens in New York….could be held against you in a court of law.


January 20, 2012  6:14 PM

Study Warns of Third-Party Data Recovery Services

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or, in this case, who protects you from the person who protects your data? According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, Trends in Security of Data Recovery Operations, the very third-party data recovery services that can help you get your data back might be helping themselves to your data, too.

We surveyed 769 IT security and IT support practitioners who are involved in their organization’s data security or data recovery operations. According to the findings, 85 percent of these respondents report their organizations have used or will continue to use a third-party data recovery service provider to recover lost data. This is an increase from 79 percent in the previous study. We also learned that organizations are frequently using a third party when a device crashes. In fact, 37 percent use multiple third parties and 39 percent say they use third parties at least once each week or more. However, the vetting of these data recovery service providers is considered fair by 30 percent of respondents and 9 percent say it is poor.”

This sort of problem isn’t new, and isn’t limited to corporations, but the problem is getting worse, Ponemon says:

A large percentage of respondents in this study report their organization has had at least one data breach (87 percent) in the past two years. (This is consistent with other Ponemon Institute studies about the prevalence of data breaches). Of the 87 percent who say their organization had a data breach, 21 percent say the breach occurred when a drive was in the possession of a third-party data recovery service provider. This is an increase from 19 percent in the previous study. In many cases, respondents point to the data recovery service provider’s lack of security that led to the data breach.”

21%! Yikes!

Note, too, that this doesn’t mean the third-party data recovery service itself hires crooks, but that the security at the service itself might be lacking and serve as an enticing honeypot for criminal hackers. For example, in May 2011, Co-operative Life Planning’s funeral planning division discovered that the personal data of 83,000 customers was leaked after a data recovery firm was called in after a hard disk failure. Although the work was successful, the data was retained on the servers of the data recovery company, and their servers were then hacked into. (But no doubt it’s the owner of the data, not the recovery company, that has to deal with notifying the users involved.)

So, what to do? The Ponemon report offers some suggestions on how to pick a reputable firm, and DriveSavers offers a (somewhat dated, 2009) white paper with similar suggestions.

The important thing, Ponemon says, is that organizations need to consider security as a primary factor in selecting such companies. Notes the study:

The majority of respondents in our study either report to the Chief Information Officer or Chief Information Security Officer. Fifty-nine percent are at or above the supervisory level. These individuals believe that their organizations are making decisions about who will handle the data recovery process based on the speed of service, successful rate of recovery and overall quality of service rather than data security. As a result, only 28 percent see data security as a main criterion for determining the adequacy of third-party data recovery service providers.”


January 13, 2012  9:47 PM

IBM Sets Stage for Teeny-Weeny, Real Real Small, Disk Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

To give you an idea of IBM’s accomplishment of storing one bit of data in 12 atoms, or one byte of data in 96 atoms, of iron on a surface of copper nitride, the equivalent would be a 10, 416-terabyte drive in the size of a 1 TB drive today.* That’s because, according to the New York Times, “Until now, the most advanced magnetic storage systems have needed about one million atoms** to store a digital 1 or 0.”

This was all done at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif.,  which took five years to do it. Which means, because it was IBM, the scientists then used the teeny weeny storage device — where each atom has to be manipulated by hand using a device the size of a room — to spell out IBM’s motto, “Think.” Good thing they didn’t work at Microsoft, where they would have had to painstakingly spell out, “Where do you want to go today?”

Of course, this is one of those “ignore friction” dealies that couldn’t happen in the real world; for one thing, it was performed at close to absolute zero, which is going to be difficult to achieve in an overheated press room at CES, for example. Still, according to the scientists, it could be done at room temperature with just 150 atoms, the New York Times said. Realistically, though, it is likely that the technology could at most produce a drive of 100 TB in the space of 1 TB today.

Something I haven’t seen in the reportage is just how sensitive such a system would be to cosmic rays, sunspots, droppage, and shocks from shuffling on carpeting. “Dude! You just wiped out the Library of Congress!” “Sorry, dude!”

The operative part of the technology was best explained by the Financial Times: “They did this by using an antiferromagnetic, instead of a ferromagnetic, structure – in other words switching the atoms in the structure from pointing towards each other (like in a fridge magnet) to pointing away from each other. This allows for less interference, which is important when storing data in 12-atom blocks.”

For more details on the science behind the discovery, check out this video from IBM. If you *really* want to know the science, check out this article in, uh, Science.

*Yes, yes, I know, technically a terabyte has 1099511627776 bytes. Hush. You get the point. Incidentally, CNET said it would be 83,000 disk drives, because CNET forgot to divide by 8.

**The New York Times‘ story originally referred to “copper nitride atoms” until people made fun of them in the comments and “atoms” was deleted. Science is hard. Noted one commenter, “ I have been both enlightened, and entertained. I also now know there is no such thing as a copper nitride atom, whereas previously, I had never wondered whether there was a copper nitride atom. Now I do, I’m not sure what to do with that.”


January 8, 2012  1:00 AM

Lack of a Backup Could Free a Killer

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Think getting your backup right is a case of life and death? Here’s an incident where it really is.

In a criminal case in Miami in 2009, a man named Randy Chaviano was convicted of second-degree murder committed in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison. As usual, a court stenographer was taking notes at the trial. But then there was a string of coincidences worthy of a Law & Order script.

  • The stenographer didn’t have enough paper for her machine — a mistake she’d apparently made before
  • Consequently, the notes she took were recorded only in the machine’s internal memory
  • She transferred the stenography machine’s records to her own PC
  • She deleted the records from the stenography machine
  • She didn’t do a backup of the PC
  • A virus hit the PC and deleted what was by then the only record of the trial, leaving only a pretrial hearing and closing arguments; it wasn’t clear when this happened

This was all discovered recently, when the case was appealed, and it was discovered that the notes no longer existed — meaning that the case will have to be re-tried from scratch, according to the Miami-Herald. The paper didn’t say how much re-trying the case would cost.

The court stenographer has since been fired — in fact, courts in Miami are now moving toward using digital recorders and no stenographers at all. Moreover, cost-cutting may have caused the problem in the first place, noted the Herald:

Court reporters in criminal court have also complained that plunging rates paid by the state have driven away experienced stenographers and forced firms to hang on to aging equipment.

“It seems very sloppy to allow the only record of a trial’s proceedings to be held on an individual’s PC – it’s like asking for trouble if it isn’t at the very least held securely as a backup elsewhere,” noted Graham Cluley in the security blog Sophos. You think?

No word on the fate of the IT person who should have been responsible for doing backups on the PCs.


December 31, 2011  10:00 AM

Storage Predictions for 2012 Roundup

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

It’s as much a New Year’s tradition as champagne and confetti: Computer industry predictions for the upcoming year, and storage is no exception.

(Of course, the e-discovery crowd had their e-discovery 2012 predictions all going in November, but they’re overachievers.)

As with e-discovery, a certain number of these predictions fall into the no-s***-Sherlock school of Mom-and-apple-pie obviousness: Data is going to grow! Use of the cloud is going to increase! People will use more mobile devices! But there are some predictions that have more nuance to them.

1. Symform, for example, a cloud storage vendor, included in its list of 2012 predictions, “The “green” data center for cloud computing will be debunked.”

While the cloud is heralded as “green,” data center sprawl is creeping in as companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon build out massive global infrastructures to power their cloud-based services. Recent reports show Google continuously exerts 250 million watts of energy from the servers behind its cloud. That is enough to power all of Salt Lake City or any other city with approximately 200,000 households. Today, data centers account for 14 percent of all carbon emissions, and the EPA estimates that data centers and servers account for two percent of power in the U.S. By 2020, Symform predicts that if left unchecked, more than 25 percent of the nation’s power will be required to power data centers, unless businesses can identify new means for storing data without building additional data centers.

25% is a lot. So, to that prediction, I’ll add: We’ll be seeing more companies investing in alternative energy, such as Google’s investment in wind and solar, locating data centers in cool places like Finland and Oregon to use natural air for cooling, and incorporating alternative energy into the data center itself, like Granite Block’s wind turbines and artesian wells. And this won’t just be because it’s the right thing to do, but simply because data centers may not be able to count on getting power any other way.

2. As predicted by Toshiba, flash storage will grow. But this isn’t just the rah-rah-everything-grows prediction (and even Toshiba hedges its bets by saying that traditional spinning disks will still be the mainstay, due to their capacity). Floods in Thailand knocked out some hard-disk manufacturing — including at Toshiba — which not only made hard disk drives harder to get, but increased their prices, up to the point where flash storage is more competitive than it has been.

3. It’s the end of cloud storage as we know it! trumpets storage vendor Drobo. And surely the fact that it manufactures on-site storage solutions for small businesses has nothing to do with it. In fact, Drobo cites research — which it conducted itself! — saying that “96 percent of SMBs (up to 500 employees) report they will store at least 50 percent of their data on-site for a minimum of the next three years. Factors cited included cloud performance, security and reliability concerns.” Sarcasm aside, Drobo has a point. Widely publicized cloud failures, of which Amazon’s was only one example, will likely give users pause about putting too many of their computing eggs into one cloud basket. If not, it should.

See you next year.


December 30, 2011  10:29 AM

Don’t Take This Disaster Recovery Facility for Granite

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Fall River, Massachusetts: Textile mills. Lizzie Borden. Disaster recovery.

Disaster recovery?

Yep. A new data center, Granite Block Global Data Center Inc., which is intended to provide application hosting, colocation and disaster recovery services to businesses in the financial services, healthcare and high technology industries, has opened up in a former textile mill in the venerable Massachusetts city.

And “Granite Block” isn’t just a colorful New England name. The walls of the facility are made of four-foot-thick solid granite, which the company says is virtually impenetrable.

Repurposing former industrial facilities into data centers has been an increasing trend in the past few years. Companies and cities looking for data center facilities are realizing that their business-convenient downtowns are often already the home of large, frequently empty, buildings. And not only do the buildings typically have a great deal of power capacity but companies can often get tax breaks for investing in what are considered distressed urban areas.  Around the world, data centers are now moving into paper mills, tanneries, department stores, warehouses, and even churches and bomb shelters.

Now a 163,000-sq. ft. former textile mill in Fall River — a city previously famous for being the home of accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden — is joining them, with Granite Block investing $5 million in the project, amid hopes that other abandoned textile mills in the New England area could serve the same purpose. Open Cape, a fiber company, has already said it intends to move into the facility — which will also give other tenants an additional connectivity option.

In addition to making use of the large power capacity the building already has, Granite Block intends to install wind turbines for energy and 400-foot artisan wells for geothermal cooling. The company has also added two 2-megawatt generators and says it has enough fuel on-site to run them for six days.

The facility is starting with 20 jobs, but could bring up to 70 jobs to the area, as well as visitors. A similar data center in Boston, which is just 40,000 square feet, brings in 500 to 700 visitors monthly, meaning the Fall River site could see three times that amount, said Granite Block President Roland Patenaude.


December 23, 2011  12:48 AM

Solid-State Storage Gets Boost From Flooding

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

The Thailand flooding that’s boosted the price of hard disk drives may have an unintended benefit — at least if you’re a manufacturer or user of solid-state flash drives.

This nuance came out earlier this month in connection to Intel issuing an earnings warning.

“[Intel CFO Stacy] Smith, meanwhile, said the average selling price for chips should be higher in the period as low-end PCs, which have the least expensive chips, take the biggest hit from the hard-disk drive shortages. He added that solid-state drives, which use flash memory, should see an increase in demand,” said the Wall Street Journal.

Analysts such as Oakshire Financial delved into the issue in more detail, noting that this could be an investment opportunity.

If you believe the comments of Intel’s CFO and think that solid-state drives are the future, consider the following: In addition to Intel, OCZ Technology Group (NASDAQ:OCZ) is one of the primary (read: overly hyped) makers of solid-state drives. Seagate (NASDAQ:STX), Western Digital and SanDisk all manufacture solid-state drives as well.

In fact, while hard disk drive prices have been going up, the prices of solid-state drives have been going down, notes Idealo. Moreover, regardless of the flood, solid-state drives are on track to match the price of hard disk drives in less than a year, the site notes. Previous predictions had been it would take two years for prices to equalize, the site added.


Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: