Unlimited Data Storage Space: A Good Thing or the Sword of Damocles?

“Does not Dionysius seem to have made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms?” – Cicero

I walked into a local electronics store the other day and saw a 2TB SATA hard drive for $80, and a 3TB drive was on sale for about $160.00. I unconsciously blurted out “You’ve got to be kidding me!”. Of course everyone around gave me that “what’s up with that?” look.

Not too long ago, one terabyte of data storage space was “unthinkable”. Even worse was the projection of the cost. I have a hard drive an engineer friend of mine gave me a while back. It weighed a ton and had a whopping size of one gigabyte (1GB) and the astonishing price was $1, 248.99.

Going even further back, there was a time when a ten megabyte (10MB) hard drive cost over $3000. I know hard drive manufacturers wish we were back to those good old days. That was when the manufacturers of computer hard drives made a “killing”.

Three Terabytes (3TB) of data storage space is a lot of disk space for a home  user or even a small business. In these days of Motherboards that can handle multiple SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) devices and up to 16GB of Random Access Memory (RAM), it may not be unusual to have a computer or server in a small business or SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) environment with 12TB (4 hard drives with 3TB each) of data storage space on a home computer.

That is a lot of data storage space. Even if such a user takes the precaution of setting up such a configuration in a RAID 5 array, that still leaves about 9TB of data storage space to play with.

Which brings us to the question: Is unlimited data storage space a good thing or a Sword of Damocles – a disaster waiting to happen?

In culture, art, and literature, the Sword of Damocles is frequently used in epitomizing the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power. More generally, it is used to denote the sense of foreboding engendered by a precarious situation, especially one in which the onset of tragedy is restrained only by a delicate trigger or chance. Shakespeare’s Henry IV expands on this theme with the popular saying: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. So it is with the ever increasing availability of data storage space.

If you’ve managed IT in a small business environment, then you are probably familiar with the ever increasing demand for data storage space because your users wants to keep all the crap they dump on their desktops and the network – personal photos, images on emails, stuff they thought they secretly downloaded from the internet and put in hidden folders (the fools!), automatically synched mobile devices etc.

What limited data storage space did for small business IT managers in the pre-Giga and TeraByte (GB/TB) days was to force the undertaking of occasional “spring cleaning” if you will, where you had users make a decision on what was important and what had to go. It also gave the IT folks a reason to archive emails and unload data from the network.

With this new age of unlimited data storage capacity, my fear is that the “laziness” factor will kick in. Not that the IT folks are lazy (ok some are), but that the availability of so much storage space, where if you dump say 300GB of data on a 3TB drive, it will barely register on the used space radar, will give a false sense of security. 300GB  is a lot of data and just the thought of a hard drive with 3TB of data going bad or “crapping out” makes me cringe. And since it is at the end of the day a mechanical device, it will go out on you. It is just a matter of time.

Many of us who use multi-gigabyte drives at home or the office can relate to this. When you have space, you tend to dump stuff there especially the ones you do not need. I was going through one of our computers the other day and saw that a 1TB drive only had 160GB of space left.

A cursory audit showed multiple files in different locations that were duplicates and triplicates. Folks just moved files and folders to new locations and probably forgot where the files were and downloaded the same files multiple times. Some were video downloads from Youtube that were never watched. Unlimited storage will do that to you. Much like when you have space in your garage or have a big house and have the tendency to “just throw stuff in there”.

Of course, the issue of “just back it up”, or “send it to the cloud” will inevitably come up. The first argument will lead to more data sprawl since you need to buy even more storage space to back up your jumbo drives and as for the cloud argument, the recent case of WeR1 versus Cyberlynk shows that there is still a compelling need for some sort of local retention of corporate data even if you have the data stored offsite.

In the long run, it could be a combination of both internal and external storage management options that will enable a small business handle the ever increasing need for data storage space. Managed services providers can help small business owners navigate the increasingly complex world of hard disk and data management.