It's not easy being 'green'

Green storage blues

Three events led me in the direction of storage recently: a trip to school to collect an Asus Eee PC; finding that our entire photograph and record collections fit on an iPod; and archiving customer files. The common theme: estimating how much data storage you need. Seems that no home, hard-drive, or data centre is ever 'big enough', and the more you have, the more it costs you - in time, in space, and in money. It also seems that digital data will always proliferate to silt up the available gigabitage. At any rate, does more 'space' actually help - or just throw up a different set of problems?

There has been a spate of public interest in the energy consumption of all those data centres that our networked lives unwittingly rely on. Locating and maintaining data centres has even become political, considering that they may consume too much power away from the 2012 London Olympics. It seems that data centres, like other former urbanites, are now seeking a place in the country.

With the need for green credentials, we see storage solutions advertised as 'energy-saving'. Can one drive really be that more energy-efficient than the next, when they are the same technology? It's not easy or obvious for the average user to make an informed decision on this issue, without calling on the resources of a full-blown testing laboratory.

Solid state drives (SSDs), despite higher power consumption, are billed as being more energy-efficient than 'traditional' platter-based hard-drives. Overall savings allegedly come from faster access times and smaller footprints - fewer are needed for particular applications. The inherent reliability of SSD drives can also lead to reduced deployment and ownership costs, compared to RAID structures with their inbuilt physical and process redundancy.  

In an attempt to hunt out more revealing data, I consulted (a reference site for all things storage), only to find out that SSD may yet be the next 'killer app', a new technology that takes over despite 'traditional' cost calculations, rather like the PC and the iPod. Whether a storage medium qualifies as a bona fide 'app' is a moot point, but I see what they're driving at (no pun intended).

Back with the family PC, with a 3GB hard-drive, predictive software and text-to-speech will theoretically free our dyslexic son from his handwriting and spelling difficulties. However, homework still takes two hours instead of the recommended 30 minutes, and is too large for the 512MB data-stick provided. It needs to consume fewer resources all round. To be sure, some pundits have been saying that true energy efficiency should be derived from better software design, and, as with security, application code authors should write energy efficient functionality into a program's 'DNA'.

Lastly, those customer archives. It's tempting to scan the remaining paperwork, but then that takes time and I'll need more hard-disk space and a faster PC. A physical storage box neatly avoids all those issues. If only all data storage decisions were as easy as a storage box in the loft. At least with a data centre, someone else is worrying about how much space I need.

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