What does the future hold for the PC?

Storing your life

How much data do you have? It's a question that most people can't answer accurately, but certainly know they never seem to have enough hard drive space on their PC, or memory on their tablets and smartphones.

Future computers will certainly have to employ new forms of storage systems to cope with the demand their users will place upon them. Perhaps everyone will have infinite cloud storage, but future computers are likely to have a mixture of different technologies.

To gain an insight into what the future of data storage could look like, TechRadar Pro spoke with Joe Fagan, Senior Director Cloud Initiatives (EMEA) at Seagate, and began by asking what's next as a practical storage technology?

"With capacity continuing to grow and cost per GB continuing to decline, albeit more slowly than in the past, SSD will be more than sufficient for personal storage for the foreseeable future. With this technology we can process documents, play or edit music, edit photographs or even video, and we can do all of this without the SSD storage device being a bottleneck to activity.

"For the time being, there is no great pressure to go faster and there is certainly nothing on the horizon that can provide the same performance at a similar price. The only major shortcoming for SSD is lack of cost-effective capacity. If a more cost-effective and larger storage repository is required then HDD is the obvious answer and will be for many years to come."

With the cloud continuing to impact on every aspect of our lives and work, is local data storage set to disappear?

He observes: "On the contrary, the reverse is true. While consumers today are happy to store non-critical data in the cloud – photos on social media sites or downloaded music and videos – in many cases, these are just backups of originals and so there is no actual reduction in local personal storage requirements. In fact it is our desire to share and consume so much information, often delivered via the cloud, that is driving growth in personal storage.

"Local data gives us much faster access than data delivered via the internet, so the working copy still needs to be stored locally. It is also much more cost effective. Even at 1p per GB per month, 1 TB would cost around £600 over 5 years – many times the cost of an external USB hard disk drive.

"So the professional consumer who requires lots of storage will need to find a more cost-effective solution than the cloud. This is provided by local personal storage devices such as external USBs, Firewire devices, or private NAS devices accessed over the home network. Similarly there is an insatiable desire for portable storage, wirelessly accessed storage and home media storage."

We also asked whether technologies like holographic storage and even organic storage systems (DNA) will ever become a practical proposition?

"Holographic storage sounds really attractive, however there is no sign that it's going to become a reality anytime soon and certainly not at a price point attractive to the consumer. As for DNA storage – storing bits on DNA chains – this could only be used for long term archiving, never for live data.

"While this method could theoretically provide reliable archive storage for thousands of years, no company or government has yet been able to take on the huge investment required to make the theory a reality."


In the future we may not just wear powerful computers but actually use our bodies for power and as a screen

A Bionic future?

At the moment we are experimenting with wearable computers. Beginning with health tech, the Apple Watch and the devices from Samsung and Motorola are a first wave of wearable computers that have a practical application. The future certainly looks more exotic.

"We already have ingestible devices and can already control elements of our environment via voice, gesture, and thought," explained Fujitsu's Jon Wrennall. "We already have smart gloves, glasses, and clothing with sensors and ways of providing feedback, such as sense of touch – where you can see and feel something not physically there – operating on someone in another continent is an option.

"We can already also enhance our physical and mental capabilities with technology such as Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. We're now able to print organs and augment core parts of our body – even the now routine pacemaker."

Furthermore, Mark Corley, CTO, Avanade UK, stated: "I think organic computers and/or quantum computers will have a place. The technology may not be silicon based but it will be organic and computers will grow and will have a level of evolution within them. They will be cell based mechanisms and will be self-repairing and self-growing based on the need of the technology. Light is already efficient at transmitting data."

And Toshiba concluded: "Invisible computing will surround us. Processing and storage devices, communications and sensors will all be invisibly small, but will be everywhere. The cloud won't be centralised server farms, but a true cloud, with devices spread as a fine mist throughout our everyday world. Some of those devices will be very smart.

"They will know what is required and do their best to achieve it without further instruction. Self-organisation will make it far easier to deploy smart systems that add intelligence to our everyday environment. The result will be a smart environment that understands and responds to simple voice commands. If a request needs more advanced intelligence, it would simply be routed wherever is needed to provide it."

The future of computing is the future of us. How we choose to create, manage and store information. How we choose to interact with others and the machines around us. And how digital technologies increasingly become enablers to do more – faster and anywhere – will define tomorrow's computers.