Data Wars: Could the Moon Become one Big Data Centre?

With all the hype this week surrounding the latest Star Wars installment. We address the big space questions around Big Data.


Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.54.55 amIs the world too small for its data? There is, of course, enough room in space.

Right now digital users of the world generate five billion gigabytes of data every ten minutes. Most credible estimates agree that within two years that same amount of information will be generated every two seconds.

There are tens of thousands of digital ‘warehouses’ across the globe. They account for 30 billion watts of electricity. One analyst wrote recently that it is the same kind of energy you might get out of 30 nuclear power plants. Another report suggests that these secure, highly secretive, purpose built facilities account for no less than 10% of the world’s electricity. Then there is the terrifying issue of life expectancy: the expected longevity of microelectronic data storage within the context of the available technology is but a few decades.

Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft, the leaders in the data storage, and their peers in are all faced with finding a solution to resolve the issues before they hit critical mass. The matter is urgent, timely, and the stakes huge across a multiplicity of issues and concerns: the business is worth US$31billion worldwide.

“The rate we are creating data is ridiculous,” Jordan Duffy of Buckham & Duffy, Brisbane told TechExec. “So the likelihood of a crisis [around the corner] is very real.”

California-based entrepreneur, Lance Parker CEO of ConnectX agrees: “We are at critical mass already,” he said. “If you define critical mass by the fact that you have so much data you can not analyse it – and that is where the value is – and companies can not get their arms around it, [then you have a problem].”

Companies like Microsoft are exploring earth-bound answers to the question of how best to cope with this flood of data. With scientists at Washington University, the company is experimenting with synthetic DNA, which could store an exabyte of data in a form that could last 100 years.

BalticServers_data_centerBut does it make sense to investigate the solar system in resolving the question, with data storage facilities on the moon, or Mars?

Ross Dawson, futurist and entrepreneur, told TechExec. that, “there is an insurmountable issue of significant data latency,” in an extra-terrestrial model.

Still, he thinks that data storage in space connected via satellites in the Earth’s orbit makes sense.

This is precisely what Lance Parker’s company aims to do.

Interviewed by TechExec. Parker explained that the current costly infrastructure of the Cloud, with its massive electricity demands, security, and real estate issues requires a paradigm shift.

“What is needed is a new data storage facility that is separate, distinct, and eliminates the use of the internet which is what we are deploying with our system,” he said.

Parker sees the Cloud as honeycombed with problems with an emphasis on security, cost, and jurisdictional issues (government access). To take finance as one example companies and individuals will spend, he believes, US$58billion by 2019.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.58.36 amThe ConnectX system allows the user direct access to their data from their mobile device on earth (there is no earth-bound server or storage in this scheme.) It uses innovative technology to overcome the single greatest challenge of transmitting data in space: the slow pace of electromagnetic waves, which is the standard for satellites and mobile tech.

The company will use the CubeSat satellite that is approximately 12cm in diameter and can be launched for under US$10,000 dollars Parker said. He believes its first deployment will take place mid-2017.

Parker is circumspect about the idea of off-earth data storage on our moon, for he sees that the new generation of affordable satellites can become like tiny but serviceable ‘asteroids’.

“I think we have to disabuse the notion that this is not already happening,” he said, “NASA is already thinking about this”, and adds: ”There is already transmission and storage occurring off-planet.” He offers broadcast technology in space as an example: “What we are doing is introducing new technology that leverages the space environment and does it in a much more efficient way.”

Still, for Duffy, the idea of data storage on planets is not entirely off the table, no matter how challenging the enterprise appears to be.

“I think Amazon understands that they will not be able to retain every piece of data forever,” he said. “If you look at it on a mega scale like they do, and if its costs them a billion dollars to investigate [the possibility], then that is probably a billion dollars well spent.”