TECH: Oceanstore/Global Hard Drive

From: Chris Rasch (
Date: Mon Apr 23 2001 - 10:26:20 MDT

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: OceanStore
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 07:35:17 -0400
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <>
To: Digital Bearer Settlement List <>

April 23, 2001


World's Largest Hard Drive
Can Save Every Scrap of Data

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- From budget spreadsheets to vacation photos, we're
piling up vast amounts of digital information. So where's the best place
keep it all? John Kubiatowicz, a professor at the University of
campus here, says the answer is easy: everywhere.

Mr. Kubiatowicz believes the way to protect information is to spread it
around. So he and a team of Berkeley researchers are developing
they call OceanStore, a global information storage system woven into the
Internet. They are essentially trying to build the world's largest hard
drive -- and then make it crash-proof.

Spurring them on is the trend toward pervasive computing. Losing your
or suffering a PC crash can be traumatic enough, but what happens when
smart devices are all over the place? Eventually, gadgets like personal
health monitors and smart cars could wind up churning out data. Mr.
Kubiatowicz wants to make sure all that information doesn't just

The approach faces huge technical hurdles, but it also raises big
about information overload. Even if we can save every scrap of data,
we? How much reliability should we expect from our digital databanks?
once we figure out how to protect data from glitches and hackers, will
still be able to delete things when we want to?

OUR STANDARDS today, Mr. Kubiatowicz says, are simply too low. "People
resigned to losing information," says the 36-year-old computer science
professor, known as "Kubi" around the Berkeley campus. "That's

He's right. Many of us treat the possibility of losing data as one of
costs of using technology. Corporations have gotten pretty good at
safeguarding central repositories like customer databases. But as
individuals, we're used to playing the odds. Sure, we know we should
up our important files more often. We should also eat less fat and work

More reliable personal computers have diminished the risk, but the
of digital information means there's more at stake. Hearing Mr.
describe OceanStore, I found myself thinking about the hundreds of
photos stored on my home PC -- mostly of my two-year-old daughter, Abby.
the PC those files are just ones and zeros, but to me they're priceless
memories. I realized I hadn't backed them up in weeks.

One way OceanStore would achieve reliability is redundancy. Files would
split into smaller, overlapping pieces before being scattered to servers
all over the network. Because the pieces would overlap, OceanStore could
reconstruct the original file using only a fraction of them. For
Mr. Kubiatowicz says, a file divided into 64 overlapping chunks could be
rebuilt using just 16 fragments. If each of the original 64 pieces was
stored on a different server, you could knock out 48 OceanStore servers
without putting the original file at risk.
Join Tom Weber for a live discussion1 about OceanStore Monday at 2 p.m.
EDT. with Tom Weber and other readers

That kind of redundancy isn't entirely new. Corporate networks routinely
duplicate data on separate disk drives to guard against mishaps. What's
innovative about OceanStore is the notion that this level of protection
should be available to everyone, everywhere, for all kinds of data.

Thus, Mr. Kubiatowicz envisions your PC beaming its files to the
network over a cable or DSL Internet connection, while portable devices
such as a hand-held organizer or a digital camera might rely on wireless
connections. Devices would store and update files on OceanStore as soon

All of this would need to happen automatically, a feat that would make
synchronization between a Palm and a PC seem like child's play. Much of
that will depend on the continued growth of high-speed Internet
connections. And it will require proving to potential users that the
is both reliable and secure from hackers.
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IT'S TEMPTING to dismiss big ideas like OceanStore as blue-sky dreams.
dot-com bubble gave us Internet time, the warp-speed development of
business ideas. Against that backdrop, Mr. Kubiatowicz's vision seems
closer to geological time. He and his researchers are seriously
what it will take to preserve digital information for 1,000 years.

Who thinks in such terms anymore? The pace of digital culture makes
information seem like a disposable commodity, not something that
archival permanence. Yet today's random bytes may be tomorrow's family
heirloom or historical record.

The OceanStore approach is firmly in step with the direction of
Such "peer-to-peer" technology has taken a lot of abuse lately, but the
struggles of a few hastily launched start-ups don't alter the fact that
distributed, decentralized approaches offer benefits. The distributed
nature of the Internet itself is the ultimate proof.
You can e-mail Mr. Weber at tweber@wsj.com3 or visit the E-World Center4

The next step for OceanStore is to roll out a prototype network across a
number of university campuses. Mr. Kubiatowicz is thinking about a
model, too. He envisions it as a service you'd subscribe to, but one
operated by scores of companies. (IBM and EMC are already supporting his

How much information should we save in this brave new world? Keep it
Mr. Kubiatowicz says. Computers, not people, will wind up dealing with
of it, he predicts. "Not too long from now, the fraction of information
that's never directly touched by humans will be huge," he says.
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R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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