Friday, 07 July, 2006

Mass storage is essentially free

Debra and I were at Office Depot the other day and saw a 500 gigabyte USB hard drive for $299.  Not too long ago, hard disk space was a buck a gigabyte.  Today you can buy a 300 gigabyte internal drive for under $150.  For about buck a gigabyte you can get a ReadyNAS--hardware RAID 5, gigabit ethernet, build-in print server, just attach the device to your network, spend a few minutes setting it up, and off it goes.  A terabyte of disk storage for about $1,000.  Mass storage is essentially free.

(In 1983, two friends and I spent $1,000 for a used 10 megabyte hard disk drive and another $1,000 on the controller.  Dean wired up a board so that we could attach the controller to the Kaypro II, and I spent a number of sleepless nights hacking a BIOS driver for it.  Today I get 100,000 times as much storage for half the price and all I have to do is plug it in.  Less than half the price if you use inflation-adjusted dollars.)

Memory used to be about 100 times the price of hard disk space.  Not any more.  Internal memory still is relatively expensive:  figure $70 to $100 per gigabyte, or about 100 times the price of an internal hard drive.  But flash memory today is about $10 per gigabyte.  People are selling 8 gigabyte flash drives on eBay for $80.  I expect we'll be paying about half that come Christmas.  Maybe mid-Spring.

So if you figure RAID 5 disk drive space at a buck a gigabyte and flash memory at ten bucks, then for $2,000 you could have a terabyte of disk storage with a 100 gigabyte flash memory cache.  That ought to be one screaming storage system, don't you think?  Especially since the flash memory is persistent:  it doesn't go away when somebody shuts off the power.  Things sure ought to boot quite a bit faster.

Almost five years ago, I wrote:

Available RAM, drive space, and processing power have now far outstripped the average computer user's ability to actually use them.  Even power users will have a hard time stressing a 2 GHz machine loaded down with 1 GB of RAM and a 100 GB hard drive.  With cable modems and DSL giving close to 10 mbps download speed, our ability to obtain, store, and process information is well beyond our ability to actually make use of it.  What we need is some innovative applications that will search the Internet for information that we want, cull through all the crap and then actually do something useful with what remains.

Processor speed has about doubled, average available RAM has quadrupled, and available disk space has increased by at least a factor of 10.  And yet I find myself feeling better about it today than I did five years ago.  I'll explain why tomorrow.