IBMs promise last week of a fourfold gain in disk drive capacities by 2003 raises the stakes for how the Internet will be used by both consumers and businesses.
"It will fundamentally transform the entertainment industry," predicted Chris Baldwin, a partner at Boston venture capital firm Charles River Ventures, which frequently invests in storage companies.
"A storage well [in the home] will be part of how you access the Internet," Baldwin explained. With large amounts of storage available to multiple home computers, Internet users will find it more practical to download movies and music, and then retrieve selections from the storage well whenever they want for their MP3 players, stereos or even car systems, he said.
Greater storage density, as outlined in IBMs "Pixiedust" announcement last week, means up to 1 gigabyte of storage may be concentrated on a tiny drive "the diameter of a quarter" and put on small handheld devices, said Galen Schreck, storage analyst at Forrester Research. "Will we put microdrives in handhelds? I think were practically there now," he said.
In addition, plentiful storage at sharply reduced prices will improve Internet computing reliability. Many Web sites today are backed up and stored on tape in case of an outage or hacker defacement of the site. Unloading thousands of files from tape and rebuilding the site takes time. With disk drive capacity increasing rapidly, many sites may opt for online backup, with a mirror image available continuously from a pool of disk drives.
"Twenty-four-hour by seven-days-a-week computing will no longer be a luxury of the Wall Street brokerage firms. It could become commonplace," Baldwin said.
In addition, plentiful storage may further expand the amount of information available online. For example, many publications offer two or three days of historical information at their sites, but to go further back requires visiting specialized archive services.
"These guys could start to have the last year online," Baldwin predicted.
Schreck said that larger amounts of Web log file storage would allow companies to execute more comprehensive analysis of click streams of visitors to their Web sites, getting more of a historical view of what is happening on the site. Today, he said, they must analyze data quickly and throw it away to keep from being overwhelmed by the accumulated amount.
Currie Munce, director of storage systems at the IBMs Almaden Research Center near San Jose, said the new storage capacities will shift home entertainment from passive technologies, such as television and rented movies, to interactive digital media.