“Move your files to the Cloud, where you’ll never run out of storage.” “Sign up with Data Provider Z and we’ll give you unlimited data storage.” Are these claims of never-ending storage realistic? We’re constantly hearing about the amount of data humans are creating. Where does it all go? Should we be worrying about datacenters running out of storage space?
For humans, the concept of unlimited storage is still hard to grasp. After all, physical space is finite; even the largest library can only fit so many books. It wasn’t all that long ago that storage space on our computers was a real issue. For most of us, running out of room on our smartphones and tablets is still a problem. So how can Cloud providers offer unlimited storage? What happens when the storage runs out?
A Peek Inside a Cloud Datacenter
In very basic terms, a datacenter it’s just a collection of servers. Servers are nothing more than computers whose sole job is to store data. Very large datacenters can be the size of warehouses and contain hundreds, thousands, or even millions of servers.
However, not all of the servers in a datacenter store unique data. To ensure that information is secure and available 99.99% of the time, datacenters rely on the principle of redundancy. This means they keep multiple copies of the same information on different servers. Some of the largest Cloud service providers, such as Amazon, may maintain the same data in two different geographic locations for maximum redundancy.
So, if you’re visualizing a datacenter as row upon row of computers that are specifically designed to store a lot of data, you’re pretty close. The cost of data storage solutions has decreased quite a lot in recent years; this is why Cloud storage providers can afford to offer virtually unlimited storage to their customers. But how long will it stay this way?
Are We Close to Digital Storage Wars?
Currently, there’s no real reason to worry about running out of Cloud storage. By 2020, the human population as a whole had produced 64.2 zettabytes of data. By 2025, it’s estimated that we will have produced 181 zettabytes of data. [Source: Statista]
Yes, that’s a lot of information. But according to Rack Solutions, a high-tier datacenter of about 980,000 square feet can hold up to 2.6 million servers. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft maintain such vast data storage centers, and research suggests that they’re not at full capacity. Add in the millions of smaller datacenters throughout the world, and it’s clear that we’re nowhere near a global data storage crisis – yet.
But when will this change?
Research and the Future of Data Storage
If the worldwide production of data increases as forecast and our current data storage technology stays the same, we could be looking at running out of data storage space. However, even the most cursory glance over the developments of the last 10 years should make it plain that data storage technology is not standing still. This excerpt from a ZDNET report illustrates the point:
“Twenty years ago there were storage arrays – some small, some large – and tape for archiving. Now, the storage landscape is much more varied, ranging from PCIe SSDs with the performance of 2010’s million-dollar storage arrays, to scale out storage capable of storing a hundred petabytes (a hundred million gigabytes) on low-cost commodity servers and automated enough that two people can manage the entire array. Storage options are expanding, as are application requirements and I/O profiles.”
We’ve already seen one transformation in data storage fairly recently – the shift from traditional hard drives (HDDs) to solid state drives (SSDs), which are faster, smaller, and more efficient. Research into data storage technologies continues, with some institutions examining the possibilities of using atoms or DNA as eventual data storage solutions. We’re also seeing advances in related areas like data transfer rates, storage performance and efficiency, and servers’ power consumption. This can make uploading, downloading, accessing, and storing data more efficient.
So, it’s reasonable to assume that as the amount of data we generate grows, the demand for bigger and better storage solutions will also grow – and will be met with continuing improvements.
Will Datacenters Ever Run Out of Storage Space?
We’ll go on record as saying no – datacenters won’t run out of storage space in the near future. And it’s unlikely that we’ll have to worry about a shortage of data storage anytime soon. While physical space is a constraint, the world has not maxed out its current data storage. And with the emergence of new storage technologies, it looks like our data storage systems are only going to get more efficient and robust over time.