Storing Everything — Will 1 Terabyte Do for Power Users?

One of the reasons I am so obssessed with increasing hard drive storage is that I am constantly running out of it. As I mentioned before for the past week or so I’ve been using a FireFox extension to automatically save every web page that I visit. Doing a bit of surfing about similar applications led me to this short essay by Microsoft researchers Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell about LifeBits. LifeBits is a program/concept whereby pretty much every document, photograph, video, audio, etc. that you create or receive would be stored. The trick is creating an interface to actually find things later when the data you’ve stored approaches the terrabyte levels and beyond.

Anyway, what strikes me about Bell and Gemmell’s essay is that they have what I think are unrealistically low estimates for total storage requirements for a hypothetical 40 year professional life of storing everything. They seem to think it could be done in under at terabyte. So just for fun I looked at what I’ve been accumulating on an annual basis and projected that out over how much storage I’m going to need 40 years from now if I keep acquiring/generating data at the same rate I have over the last 10 years. And it breaks down something like this:

E-Mail – 16gb
Web pages/books/other text – 772gb
Pictures – 400gb
Music (MP3) – 234gb
Video (MPEG4)- 750gb
Misc – 200gb

That yields a grand total of 2.372 terabytes if I just continue at the same rate for the next 30 years. And given the way data generation/acquistion has accelerated I suspect the reality is that 30 years from now I’m going to want closer to 10-20 terabytes. Why?

Well, I’m likely to start taking pictures with a 6 or 7 megapixel camera rather than a 3 megapixel one. Rather than MP3, I’m likely to be using FLAC or some other lossless compression scheme for music (why not if storage gets cheap enough). As video becomes cheaper to record, manipulate and store, I find my usage of it accelerating as well.

As far as finding data I need, frankly I think the tools already exist for that provided they will scale to 100,000 photographs or almost a terabyte of text. The main problem is that these tools currently aren’t integrated and are relatively difficult to use for non-geeks.

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