Yesterday afternoon I stayed around for the final panel session at the Storage Visions 2012 conference, taking place alongside the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it turned out to be probably the most exciting and controversial session of the two day event.
The title of the panel was “Don’t Lose Your Life: Making, Saving, Sharing and Protecting Family and Business Content” which led to a spirited discussion among the panelists and the audience. What became clear during the session is that this is far from a “solved problem” – as anyone who has any amount of stored digital data in their home well knows.
The participants introduced a variety of devices and services that help consumers and small businesses protect their valuable data. Panelists were from ioSafe (nice box, survives tornadoes!), LaCie (fast, fast, thunderbolt!), HitachiGST (wireless!) and SugarSync (protect and sync!).
I should also note that my colleagues at sister division iomega also have a device and service solution, recently upgraded, that is compatible among others with the Atmos cloud storage platform that I work on.
At least two of the panelists promoted the idea in their intros of combining multiple approaches to safeguarding your data – having a device in your home to which you do direct backups of your laptops and other digital devices, and in addition a remote service “cloud” layer that provides additional protection, perhaps for a subset of critical data and media items.
This is where it began to get tricky and the discussion became energetic.
Since most home and even most small business connections to the Internet are relatively slow, and often asymmetric (download much faster than upload), there are practical difficulties to putting “everything” into the cloud. A second concern was how to deal with the reputation and will-they-stay-in-business risks of depending on a remote service of any kind.
One of the panelist contended that any established cloud storage service would be able to be more diligent and apply more sophisticated technology than any consumer could in their own home – even those of us in the geekerati. This led another panelist to note that ultimately, an individual needs to be responsible for their own data, because the data being stored will not be as valuable to anyone except the creator of the data.
There was also a question from the audience about migrating data between storage devices and migrating across storage formats as technology evolves over time. This is a topic of much discussion and investment by – for example – the Library of Congress and has multiple technology angles.
All this discussion leads to a concept that might best be called personal stewardship of your data. Regardless of the care that a company takes in building their devices and backing them with warranties or insurance polices; and regardless of the technology and systems and experience in place at service providers, the person with the most invested in your personal data is you and your family (or small business).
So the question becomes not primarily “who do I trust” for each part of the technology, but goes back to an ease-of-use and ease-of-understanding of what the various technologies on offer actually do. This means there is yet another barrier to consumers making informed technology decisions – they need to be able to reason about ease of use, costs, and “deployment” of the technologies they choose, but also about what happens to their data in the medium- and long-term as “threats” and technologies evolve.
I was reminded of a story told by Cathy Marshall of Microsoft in a keynote at the FAST 2008 conference about user studies she had done of people’s strategies for home archiving. That full presentation and video are online at the USENIX FAST site.
The story she related was of a user who at the top of the interview responded with a confident “Yes” to the question “Do you have a strategy for backing up your data?”. After some discussion about what type of data the interviewee had, and what it meant to her, Cathy finally asks “What is your backup strategy?” and the woman opens her desk drawer and pulls out a newspaper clipping of an article describing how to do backups from a PC onto CD-RW disks. The woman has not actually bought a CD-RW drive, has not bought any media, and has not done any backups, but by clipping the article she figures she has the problem “mostly solved”.
Many of us are probably chuckling at this, but how many of us – even the geekerati – can truly say that we have thoroughly vetted and tested regularly (smoke detector batteries at daylight savings time!) our strategy for protecting our family data and memories?
For those of us spending time this week at CES in Las Vegas promoting various technology directions, how many of us have considered how consumers might reason about their long-term plans and how a given gadget or piece of technology will fit into their lives for 5 years or 10 years or the lifetime of their children?
I believe this is a more comprehensive view on the user experience of digital data than what is usually taken today. As commentators talk about the “megatrend” around this CES of a changing focus from devices and gadgets to software and services, this type of long-lived user experience will become more and more important to consider.
I think it is a problem that it will take a technology “village” to solve.
Best wishes to everyone for a good show this week – whether you are here on the ground or watching and reading along at home.