Weightlifting a Petabyte

I am looking at a small stack of hard drives on my desk, a few terabytes, and thinking of the time (before I was born) when it took two strong people to lift one of IBM's experimental washing-machine-sized 100KB drive prototypes. IBM's 1956 RAMAC 305 used fifty 24 inch platters to provide 5MB of storage, and weighed more than a ton.

You can now buy a 1TB laptop drive that weighs about 100 grams, so a petabyte of unconnected disk drives weighs 100kg. Solid state drives are still heavier per terabyte, though that could change in time. A clever connection scheme to support and power and access those SATA drives might add another 50kg.

The world clean-and-jerk weightlifting record is about 260kg.

Imagine an event for the nerd olympics - lifting a live petabyte. Live meaning you have to design a setup to power up all the drives (in succession or parallel, your choice) and extract a checksum file off each one - after you've lifted the whole mass off the floor and held it over your head. Without damaging the drives.

I can imagine the contenders, selected athlete/nerds from google and facebook and amazon, facing off against each other to (1) lift the mass of drives quickly (2) power them up (3) write checksum files into each drive from the judging machine (4) lower them without breaking them (5) read back the checksum files, hashed with other data preloaded on the drives. Fastest accurate upload wins.

Ten years from now, as solid state storage gets denser, the petabyte lift will be a children's event. Twenty years from now, it will be done with two fingers, and thirty years from now, with a magnifying glass and tweezers. Adult lifts will move to larger byte classes, exabytes by the 2030s, yottabytes by the 2060s.

DNA is 660 daltons per base pair, two bits per base pair, 6.02e23 daltons per gram. A kilogram of DNA contains 1.8e24 bits, perhaps 2e23 bytes with error correction. By the end of the century, with advanced nanotechnology, we can embed the yottabyte in the weightlifter herself. Live storage indeed.

PetabyteLift (last edited 2012-04-27 04:38:12 by KeithLofstrom)