Hardware

Peter Cochrane's Blog: A petabyte before I die...

Tech costs fall but just how much cheaper can it all get?

Written in a coffee shop in Ipswich UK and dispatched via a company wi-fi service.

Today I was in a well-known electronics store buying an audio connector for £1.46 when I was offered a mouse for 23p. Yes, 23p I couldn't believe it - nor could I resist.

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Now I don't need another mouse but for 23p - who cares? Of course I suspected it would be some piece of junk they just wanted to get rid of. But no, this was a first-class, fully functional item of the kind I paid £25 for only a few years ago.

In the same vein I have attended conferences and company events over the past two years where the attendees have been given 4GB memory sticks, earphones, thumbprint readers, USB lights and fan attachments, USB hubs, mouses, LED torches, novel keyboards, wi-fi detectors and more.

I can remember not so long ago when being given a plastic pen or a mug was a big deal.

Just how cheap can all this IT stuff get? Will this much-more-for-much-less regime continue, or will it stop abruptly? I can't see why it should ever stop, unless we start to run out of creativity, ingenuity or the necessary raw materials.

Gordon Moore's 1965 observation that the density of transistors on integrated circuits - and hence to some extent computational power - would double every 24 months seemed correct for quite a while.

But over the following 30 years or so, the time to double shrank to just 18 months, and in some specific domains the next decade saw it reduced further to more like 12 months.

And Moore-type laws seem to apply to data storage and everything else, and always the time to double gets shorter year on year.

So this doubling sequence looks like this:

2^n/2 >>30 years>> 2^n2/3 >>10 years>> 2^n >>5 years >> 2^n3/2

What does this mean? That 1TB storage unit my son built with four 250GB hard drives in a PC frame at a cost of £3,000 just eight years ago can now be replaced by a much smaller box complete with power supply and all interfaces for a mere £130.

It also means I can confidently predict I will probably be the proud owner of at least one petabyte - 1PB = 1,000TB = 1,000,000GB - well before I die.

You don't believe me? Well, as a young engineer I remember spending obscene amounts of company money for things we now all own and take for granted.

For example, a Winchester Drive of 20MB capacity housed in something close to the size of my airline hand baggage was £20,000 in the early 1970s.

In contrast I recently bought two 1TB drives boxed complete with power supply and all interfaces for a mere £260 - plus of course a new mouse for 23p.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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