How long before local storage is dead?

Of course while many business users will be happy to work in a cloud-based world, that's in part because their needs are very simple: Office, email, calendar-based apps, and so on. Others, though, require so much storage space that switching to the cloud isn't yet practical, as Paul Hudson, sales director of Buffalo Technology told us:

"Recently there's been a trend towards purchasing Networked Attached Storage (NAS) devices for both consumer and SMB markets. These drives are just so affordable now - you can buy 1TB LinkStations from around £70, 2TB for little over £100 - and people need the space, mostly for downloadable content: videos, images, music, movies, more."

And the trend isn't going away. "High definition will push it further, along with new products, like the TVs now appearing in Japan with USB ports for connecting drives. It's all going to generate more and more data requiring storage, and I don't see this changing in the foreseeable future."

Buffalo linkstation

STAYING LOCAL: Local storage may not be disappearing just yet - increasing storage needs mean Buffalo is selling more NAS devices than ever

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (GST) expanded on this, telling us: "People don't like to throw things away, especially if it takes a long time to decide what's important and it's easy and cheap to store it. And so many PC users have a folder called "Old" on their drive, for example, which holds the data from their last system."

Uploading all this data to the cloud is a problem, the company explained: "Networks tend to be asymmetric, and even if you have a 10MB uplink it would probably take weeks to push a terabyte upstream".

And even once you've completed your first backup, there are still concerns.

High-profile hacking attacks this year will do little to persuade the public that big business are likely to treat their data with the care it requires.

Recent cloud outages at Office 365, Google and Amazon show that having your files in the cloud doesn't necessarily mean they'll be available when you need them.

And of course you may not always be in a position to access the web, anyway. Paul Hudson told us: "I travel a lot and can't always access the internet, so instead I always carry a portable external drive".

So how will the cloud affect the market for local storage? Hitachi GST gave us the most definitive prediction, explaining that across all its strategic meetings with industry partners, "there is a general belief that local storage will be as big or bigger than cloud storage in 8 to 10 years from now".

A complementary approach

So we have the cloud companies promising imminent victory, then, while the storage companies claim it's going to be business more or less as usual, for the next few years at least. No surprise there - but what's really going to happen?

Perhaps the best clue comes in a July IDC report sponsored by IT giant EMC Corporation, "Extracting Value From Chaos". This revealed that the world's information is more than doubling every two years, with a staggering 1.8 zettabytes - 1.8 trillion gigabytes - forecasted to be created and replicated in 2011. Putting that into perspective, it's enough data to fill 57.5 billion 32GB iPads, or the equivalent of every person in the world having over 215 million high-resolution MRI scans every day.

Sounds like a lot? By 2020, the report predicts, the amount of data generated across the world will further increase by a factor of 50.

The report also notes that IT departments simply don't have the resources and staff to keep pace with this level of growth. And with the world economy in a bad way, this situation is only likely to get worse.

One obvious conclusion from all this is that companies are going to seek whatever opportunities they can to better manage this flood of data while also reducing their IT costs, and that's going to result in plenty of new business for cloud companies.

But it's not going to be a revolution, and the IDC report spells this out, estimating that even in 2015 only around 20% of the world's data will, at some point, be stored or processed in the cloud.

And in the meantime, mobile devices won't necessarily be killing off local storage; if anything, they're creating new opportunities. Hitachi's G-Connect, for example, is a portable wireless storage device with 500GB capacity, which is designed for easy access via the iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices - bring it along on your holiday and there's no need to rely on slow internet connections; everything you need is right there with you.


MORE STORAGE: Hitachi's new G-Connect is designed specifically to work with iPads and iPhones

The G-Connect can run up to three HD wireless streams simultaneously, or act as a wireless access point for five users; plug it into a USB port and it works as a regular external drive (it's powered via USB, too); and the list price on release is $199, which suggests that we'll be seeing similar products under £100 quite soon.

There is undoubtedly a move to the cloud, then, and with good reason - it's cheap, convenient, great for collaboration and many businesses. But that move isn't as dramatic as some of the hype would suggest. And while the local storage market will be affected, it's not going to be killed off - both the cloud and local storage will exist side-by-side for many years to come.

Mike Williams
Lead security reviewer

Mike is a lead security reviewer at Future, where he stress-tests VPNs, antivirus and more to find out which services are sure to keep you safe, and which are best avoided. Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. The early PC viruses caught Mike's attention, and he developed an interest in analyzing malware, and learning the low-level technical details of how Windows and network security work under the hood.