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RAID technology and terabyte-sized storage systems were invented in the 1980s for supercomputers and moved to the world of corporate computing in the late 1990s. In that era, considerable skill was required to assemble and manage this much storage. And unfortunately, while storage technology has gotten a lot smaller and cheaper, the tools for managing all that stored data have not gotten much simpler. All of us are going to be spending more of our time trying to manage our storage devices effectively (as the choice between drive striping and drive mirroring illustrates), but there aren’t yet many easy-to-use tools for organizing a terabyte of digital video.

Of course, there’s always Windows Explorer or the Macintosh Finder: you can create a directory for each year and store your videos in chronological order. You can then use the Windows search utility, or Spotlight on a Mac, to search your collection by file name. But what I would really like is some kind of semantic video search engine that indexes video by analyzing the dialogue or the scenes, taking into account the time of year, the location, and the people in the picture. Then I could simply say, “Computer, find all video clips of my mother in a red dress.” Unfortunately, that kind of search technology is still in the research stages.

The Maxtor drive does make one storage task easier: backing up other hard drives. The word “OneTouch” refers to a prominently placed push button on the front of the device; pressing that button causes your host computer to run Retrospect Express, the personal backup program included with the drive.

But I don’t use Retrospect Express. When I back up my laptop, I just copy all the files into a new directory. This is less efficient, but it’s a lot faster to recover the backed-up files using the Macintosh Finder or Windows Explorer than using Retrospect’s “Restore” facility.

Of course, having a terabyte of backup capacity could change our notions about what it means to back up a computer in the first place. Instead of storing a snapshot of all the files on the computer at a particular point in time, the way automatic backups do, we could continuously store every version of every file that we’ve ever edited. Your browser’s “history” could be a real history, with a copy of every Web page you ever viewed, every song or video clip you ever downloaded. Storage on this scale would mean never having to hit “delete.” These kinds of desktop backup systems are also a current subject of research.

With great storage comes a great need for storage management. Today’s terabyte drives deliver the bytes – but unfortunately, it’s still up to the user to know what to do with them.

Simson Garfinkel researches computer forensics at the Harvard Center for Research on Computation and Society.

OneTouch III Turbo Edition Hard Drive Maxtor
$900 list, $700 street

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