The Future of Storage - A disruptive Design for Laptops
August 29, 2009
So now we know how to re-invent hard disk storage for future machines. Adding capacity will be easy. The days of having to retain that high school knowledge of how to change a disk drive are over. Then we had time - now we don't. The Drobo showed us how it's done right for external storage and hard disks. That was in 2007.
I have seen the prototype that did it with CF-cards in 2005. Let's come back to today and design the "storage system of the future" for a laptop using solid-state memory.
On the previous page we showed how it could work in an iMac with hard disk drives. The 24" iMac could even be big enough to do it with today's 2.5" HDDs or SSDs formats. In 2005 something like the Toshiba hard drives in iPods where good candidates. Where are they now? Up to 160 GB? Good, but it could easily happen that these drives might slip into obsolescence when Apple switches all iPods to SSDs.
Out on a Limp
Let's look at solid-state-memory. Kingston just introduced its 256 GB DataTraveler 300. By looking at its size, add a bit for a different, faster interface and you realize four of those could easily fit in a laptop. There is your new laptop for 2011 (?) - 500 GB Solid-State-Memory array with Raid protection. And a starter system could easily start with "just" 256 GB.
Remember what we get here:
- a single storage volume on your desktop,
- data protection without a need to manage it,
- easy storage expansion - when you need it and without a tech guy,
- no moving parts and light weight - always good for a laptop,
- fast and reliable.
Who want's to do it? Again - only Apple could! They own both hardware and software and control the design. They could use ZFS and the SATA controller chips are available. But ZFS been drawn into some bitter patent disputes over the last few years and technically it's still quite a bit of work to make it work on the Mac.
Conceptually a storage model somehow similar of that of the [external] Drobo would fit the bill. Silicon Image has a SteelVine disk controller that has a built-in Volume Manager which seem to have come out of the same gene pool (both work on the block level). So the components and ideas are there...
If we would just be able to get Steve interested. Leaving the PC in the dust by moving to a new storage architecture the PC world wouldn't be able to match for years - wouldn't that be something? I have seen the Apple folks hovering over the DataRobotics booth at the 2008 MacWorld. They must have liked the little black box and its concept.
Let's Speculate a Bit
Would Apple run with it - or is it already? Why else would they care to half the disk space the Snow Leopard OS takes? And advertise it!
Disk space is cheap, a solid-state drive (SSD) is not. New systems design has leveled out with faster performance here, a new type of I/O there and a slimmer case. IS that still fun to "design"?
To build "the next great Macintosh" there has to be something else.
User's want ease of use on the systems level as well. Two issues come to my mind:
- Infinite Storage - We don't want to worry about running out of disk space after a couple of months or a year with the system (just because we didn't want to spend the additional $300 for the higher Mac model with a bigger disk), and
- Instant-on (*) is still on my list (not that I'm really unhappy with the wake-up time from sleep state.)
We covered disk space above and on the previous page. Instant-on could be accomplished by keeping the OS and all open applications on a 16 GB SSD.
A Mac with a small SSD and a big hard drive. That would be a departure from any standard architecture - providing lots of speed and longer battery run times. Except that this type of memory is still pretty expensive and therefore reserve 'radical' changes in technology usually to completely new devices. Devices that don't have an established material cost basis.
And with that we are back to the iPad. It needs a smaller OS, it needs Instant-On, it needs solid-state memory, and if it could run the same OS as the Mac - one could even start thinking about 13", or 15" size panels.
Instant-On on PCs (*)
A long sought design feature for personal computers that provides a boot time of nearly zero. Implemented it would allow users to turn off their machines instead of putting them to sleep, saving - as a whole - significant amounts of electricity.
September 29, 2009 - Update
Dell Computer introduces its new Z600 laptop. Running Linux this 16-incher is a technical marvel. Totally wireless:
- wireless charging,
- wireless USB,
- wireless DVI to a display.
And it features 500 Megs of flash to keep the OS running while "asleep" - well not really asleep: it listens for incoming email and has it ready for you when you "wake it up."
Almost redefines Instant-On to "Always On".
Oh - and one more thing! These are the requirements for a touch-pad. We bet that Dell has such a thing sitting on shelfs at the same time (or earlier) than Apple.
Speaking of which. Did Apple got beaten to the punch? What happened?