Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

Dec 30 2016   10:19AM GMT

‘Rogue One’ Data Storage — a Cautionary Tale

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

User interface design

The problem with being a storage nerd is it makes it pretty difficult to enjoy the movies. In this day and age, too many movie plots hinge on computers and data, and moviemakers typically aren’t geeks, so it’s way too easy to lose your suspension of disbelief based on bonehead errors.

Take Rogue One. And yes, here be spoilers; as a good nerd, I saw it opening night, but waited til after Christmas to write this so that most reasonable people had already seen it.

Sneakernet is alive and well. Yes, here we are in a galaxy far, far away, with space travel and holograms and planet destroyers, and we still are exchanging data using tape cartridges, CD-ROMs, USB sticks, and watching a meter as we upload data? And tape cartridges have a handy-dandy loop on them so you can hook them to your belt? Not to mention the fact that, although all the plans are in electronic data storage, there’s no way to gain access to the file other than flying out to that base.

Encryption isn’t a thing? Okay, maybe the reason you couldn’t gain access to the file other than by flying out to the base was for physical security. I’ll buy that. But then they have that entire library stored out there, with all the seeekrit plans for the Death Star, in unencrypted files? See what happens, FBI, when you outlaw encryption?

Data centers powered by renewable energy. Perhaps the Scarif data center was also protected by a moat. With a waterfall. But perhaps the waterfall was there to power the library using renewable energy. It’s nice to know that even the Empire wants to be green.

User interfaces still need work.  Okay, it’s not “It’s Unix! I know this!” but apparently all the user interface designers got killed off early in the war because all the technology seems incredibly hard to use. That tape library is pretty snazzy – but there’s no instructions or intuitive interface, and access to the tapes needs to be done manually? And uploading data means you need to walk out on a catwalk to manually adjust the satellite dish? Or hook up a manual data transmission with a big, fat (yet, still incredibly flexible) cable that nonetheless requires you to walk out to a control panel to flip a master switch? (And has a port that just anybody can walk up and plug said cable into?)  Not to mention, how screwed are you if, while using those instructionless mechanical hands, you happen to drop the tape cartridge down twenty stories?

We still don’t have a good system for filenames. Admittedly, Erso couldn’t call the blueprints Secret_Plan_to_Destroy_Death_Star, but really, we’re reduced to having Jyn read the filenames manually until she finds the one that’s her nickname? So if Jyn hadn’t been around, the Alliance never would have stumbled on the plan? Knowing a secret about the designer worked to find the back door in Wargames, but shouldn’t we have advanced beyond that by now?

Back doors don’t work. If nothing else, perhaps Rogue One will point out to law enforcement and the federal government why encryption back doors are a bad idea. Erso’s back door allows a couple of rebels with bombs and teeny planes to destroy an $852 quadrillion investment. At least it’s reassuring to find out, after almost 40 years, that someone had created that flaw in the design on purpose.

We still don’t have backups? Rebels are at the Scarif archive? No problem, says Governor Tarkin; we’ll just blow it up – a decision that caused no small amount of hand-wringing among librarians. “Did the Empire have a data backup plan?” worries Gabriel McKee, librarian for collections and services for New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, who still hasn’t gotten over the destruction of the library at Alexandria. “What else was stored there, and was any of that data backed up elsewhere? Did Tarkin have authorization to, for lack of a better word, deaccession the entire archive? And could anything of Scarif’s archive have survived such apocalyptic weeding?”

If nothing else, perhaps Rogue One can be used as a cautionary tale of how not to set up a storage archive.

3  Comments on this Post

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  • Michael Tidmarsh
    Also - love the fact that you have to use a robotic arm to travel around the storage columns to find the specific cartridge.
    65,700 pointsBadges:
  • wendygoerl
    (for the record, I have yet to see Rogue One and only have a vague notion of what's supposed to happen in the movie)

    Uh, for one, you're forgetting this little inconvenience called "the speed of light"--if you're in another star system, it would take YEARS to Wi-Fi the data, assuming there aren't any electrical storms or solar flares getting in the way of your connection. For another, maybe requiring physical devices to store the data (how big is a "what we need to destroy the Death Star" file, anyway?) IS a form of security,  just as  high-security applications use shielded cable connections so there's no wireless signal for someone to eavesdrop.

    I also might like to point out that  Hollywood wanted to use the internet to deliver movies to cinemas, but the cinema owners worried about not having a movie to show if their connection went south (hey, connections in my hometown are so bad it's sometimes taken me MONTHS to get a good enough connection to download a 2GB file, and theater-quality movie files are even bigger), so they settled on plug-in hard drives about the size of a VHS tape. And although they can easily be re-written (I think, anyway) after a movie's finished its run, I'm sure a distributor has several thousand drives sitting in their "vault" at any given time.
    100 pointsBadges:
  • jacobcat
    Well, I would surmise that since Rogue One happened immediately before Star Wars Episode 4, and Episode 4 was made in the 1970s, the technology had to be 70s era as well, to fit in the plot. :)
    10 pointsBadges:

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