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Space, the Final Frontier

Here's an out of this world idea for safe data storage
The AMOS 3 satellite (Photo credit: Spacecom via Tsahi Ben-Ami/FLASH 90)
The AMOS 3 satellite (Photo credit: Spacecom via Tsahi Ben-Ami/FLASH 90)

Yesterday, I spoke about siloed information and its storage in data centers. Data centers are still physical masses of computer hardware, and thus vulnerable to physical attack. One of the ways to protect data, even if a single data center is totally destroyed, is to keep a separate copy in a geographically remote location. But that location truly has to be remote  from the primary data center. Otherwise the same event that destroyed the first data center could do the same to the backup.

Microsoft has done a tremendous job of setting up data centers around the world [I have no stock in Microsoft, nor any connection to the company]. Microsoft has more data centers than its rivals [and there really are only two rivals, Google and Amazon]. Microsoft has data centers on nearly every continent. One of the reasons for doing so is so that multinational companies can have their data initially stored at and retrieved from a physically close data center, but then copied (and backed up) at a data center on other continents. This way, other branches of the multinational company would also have their data close to them. The closer the data, the faster the retrieval. And in big business, every millisecond counts.

Having copies of data on different continents effectively means that the data is protected against anything short of a worldwide disaster. Considering that every other new Hollywood movie and TV show are about end of world scenarios, having your data as protected as possible seems much more reasonable. But there is one place where the average user does not get to have their data stored. And that place is in outer space.

There are thousands and thousands of satellites that orbit our planet, all providing various functions that are critical to our day-to-day lives. But, to the best of my knowledge, none of the three major companies I mentioned above, have an active data center in space, being used to save my Gmail. To be fair, it really does seem extreme to spend the money it would take to set up orbiting data centers, just so that my last tweet does not get lost. But there is a lot of data that is critical, so much so that every precaution must be taken to make sure that nothing ever touches it.

By the way, certain data is created in orbit, so having long-term storage of this data also be in space, make sense. At some point, most of our phone-based communications go through a satellite. So once again, it is by no means unreasonable to have this data backed up to a local orbiting data center.

The really big question is cost. If someone has a technology for launching a data center into space and having it powered, perhaps by solar energy, in such a way that the total cost  of maintaining such a data center is cheaper than on earth, our skies will fill up with them. There is of course  the tremendous advantage of having such a data center being so remote that no one short of a classic James Bond villain would ever get close to it. I am not ruling out other satellites with frikkin’ lasers having a star war and destroying all of these orbiting data centers. I guess there is a limit to just how safe data can be.

I once heard a comment that puts all of this in perspective. A friend once said to me, that just a few years ago it was enough for a doctor to scribble a few notes on a piece of paper and save it in a filing cabinet. These days, unless your medical data is saved in all of these fancy data centers, it is not considered safe enough. And we need to remember that despite the rate of computerization of medical services around the world, there is still a huge quantity of health information that is recorded with pen and paper.

We are living in an age when  technology moves so quickly that anyone working in the way they did just a few years ago, seems like a dinosaur. And I can only say that the rate of technology advancements will increase. When I look at my youngest daughter’s cell phone, I literally cringe. She is using a cell phone that was top-of-the-line just a few years ago. But now, it really does look like a relic. But, believe it or not, she refuses to get a new phone because she “doesn’t need it”. I guess it is fate’s ironic sense of humor that my daughter would not demand the latest technology. But soon enough, technology will win out. Whether on earth, underwater or in space, technology will reach everywhere (including to “Infinity”) and beyond.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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