Data Storage in Space? It’s Already in the Works

By 2025, there will be 1,000 percent more data, and with cybersecurity issues, terrestrial data storage options won't be enough. Read up on innovations like object storage and the space cloud.

March 30, 2018
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To the casual onlooker, the quandary of data storage seems like a non-issue. This is just code, just numbers, and someone is always inventing a new solution for how to use these numbers to get things done. But to anyone who takes a microscope to it, the issue of data storage is paramount and complex. It’s like you’re watching people rapidly put valuable items in a warehouse as unseen thieves rush in the backdoor. Every day another item disappears as 10 more items replace it. The issue is two-headed: a compounding amount of data with ever-increasing storage needs on top of the constant concern of cybersecurity.

The evolution of data storage is haunted by the ghost of storage future. By 2025, there will be an estimated 163 zettabytes of data in the “datasphere,” an increase exceeding 1,000 percent of 2016’s 16.1 ZB. File and block storage methods worked for a while, but now data giants like Amazon and Google are using object storage.

Object Storage

Object storage, or “bundled data,” is necessary because of the sheer volume of data that processors are working with. File storage isn’t accommodating enough for billions of data files, while block storage still maintains the clunky file system. Object storage takes away the file layer and the application responsible for storage does all of the legwork. The application assigns each object, or dataset, with a unique ID that will remain unchanged. When users go in and alter the object, the app automatically creates a new object while preserving the original dataset for backup. The app assigns metadata as the sole means of organization. Billions of files sit side-by-side, so to speak, in the cloud, with no organizational or relational principle behind their placement besides metadata that identifies them.

New Facilities, New Needs

Even with object storage, space for all this data is running out. The IoT continues growing and so do data centers, with no end in sight. In 2017, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft contributed to a record $20 billion in spending on data centers for cloud operations. 2018 is on track to be another record year, with $4 billion in data center spending already documented in the first three months.

Cloud providers are buying up data centers from companies for more than the real estate is worth. They know companies will see increasing need for cloud storage and SaaS in the future, so they expect companies to plow big investment into the cloud, at which point the cloud providers will recoup their spend.

This increasing need for cloud storage isn’t just because of the IoT. Companies and other organizations are keeping tabs on their assets through asset tracking, which, according to Asset Panda, involves “cloud-based systems that sync with mobile apps and come with a mobile barcode scanner that can be used with an employee’s own smartphone or tablet.” Asset tracking compounds the data accumulating in cloud servers as organizations convert their physical assets into data.

One of these organizations is Stanford University. With over 16,000 students and 2,200 faculty members worldwide, Stanford is constantly updating its asset database in the cloud. How long will it be until all assets are part of the IoT, constantly transmitting data on their whereabouts and other information? That would be a big drain on cloud infrastructures.

Space Cloud

What do you do when it’s clear that data centers are going to start clogging the arteries of an already over-taxed cyber infrastructure, and cybersecurity breaches cost organizations about $400 billion annually? Take your storage into space. At least, that’s what Cloud Constellation Corporation is doing with Space Belt. Space Belt will consist of satellites in low orbit that store, compute, and transmit data via laser data links.

“You can clearly see that today’s Internet and other systems that are supporting cloud operations and cloud storage are very leaky and very prone to cyberattack at every junction as well as delays,” Cloud Constellation’s CEO Scott Sobhani told Ars Technica. He wants to remedy the situation by putting a system of satellites into orbit by 2025.

Space Belt is planning a test flight of satellites by the end of 2018. The satellites will literally be a cloud over the Earth, communicating via 10-gigabit lasers and operating in low orbit, so as to eliminate latency. “The entire Space Belt system can be viewed as one large drive or one large data center,” says Sobhani. All storage will be encrypted, and Space Belt will allow you to bypass the International Telecommunications Union — essentially, it could eliminate the need for telecom companies and their satellites, which use geosynchronous communication at more than 22,000 miles altitude.

Distant satellites often need to bounce radio signals back down to Earth, then signals bounce back up to another satellite, then back to Earth again. SpaceBelt will allow anyone sending a radio frequency signal to store and access data directly from the satellite cloud with no need for extra transmissions. SpaceBelt could complement or replace terrestrial data centers. Sobhani promises to offer the most secure data storage possible (don’t they all?), with no middleman needed for access. SpaceBelt could operate outside of the law, since space is technically governed under the Law of the Sea.

The Human Brain

If a new startup called Nectome has anything to say about it, your brain could eventually be stored in space. With support from Y Combinator, Nectome is presenting its “100 percent fatal,” high-tech embalming method. The method can preserve every neuron, synapse, and cell of the brain — it’s the most finely detailed molecular preservation of the brain so far. Once quantum computers are able to map the human brain and convert its structure into data, Nectome’s embalmed brains could hypothetically be uploaded into the cloud and downloaded onto something else in the future.

Nectome’s embalming method requires the person to be dead, thus the “100 percent fatal” part. There’s already a waiting list for the service. But there’s no telling whether converting molecular information into data will allow Nectome to achieve its ultimate goal, which is preserving the individual’s consciousness.

If you think about it, the human brain is the most complex, mysterious, innovative, and inventive data-processing unit in existence. If you store the human brain in form of data, and plenty of people start doing it, that will put huge demands on storage capacity.

With so much data coming at us in the near future, governments, companies and individuals need to consider the many options available as to where to put it all. The Earth can only handle so much. Space may indeed be the final frontier for data storage of the future.