Thomas Coughlin


With the importance of home data storage growing almost as exponentially as the cost of hard drives has been plummeting, SmartHome asked Thomas Coughlin, founder and organizer of the Annual Storage Visions Conference this past January in Las Vegas and president of Coughlin Associates, Atascadero, Calif., to comment on the state of the home digital media storage market and its technology. Coughlin has worked more than 25 years in the data storage industry and has six patents to his credit. His remarks draw on his company’s market and technology analysis and his technical consulting on data storage. For more information, go to www.tomcoughlin.com.

“In that market where you have a professional doing it, the products that could serve that market are starting to show up there,” says Thomas Coughlin, founder and president of Coughlin Associates, Atascadero, Calif., about the availability of home data storage devices. “There is getting to be technology out there that the professional installer can create for a variety of budgets, but still much more needs to be worked out.

“There’s still standard capacities and operability issues,” Coughlin stresses. “You can get a professional installer who could get the equipment together, and that starts making it more accessible. But it will not become a mass-market item until the capabilities are there, and there’s enough standardization in place with components, and enough of these things work well enough together for most regular use.”

He points out that this is a beginning market. “It’s not something you just plug-and-play,” he admits. “There are movements in that direction, like HP has a TV with a media server built in, which means it can access a computer on the network, or in their case their Media Vault storage device to get content and watch it. Things are gradually getting easier, but it’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of room for growth and improvement.

“The main reason why people network things is so most home computers can share an Internet connection,” he explains. The next step is to use the network to share digital content, but the vast majority of these products do not have networking capability.

How Much Space Is Enough?

Among the devourers of media storage space is lossless music, in which no compression like MP3 is used, uncompressed video and raw digital photo files. Terabytes of storage accessed through gigabyte networks are the future, Coughlin thinks.

Once a family starts really creating content, terabytes of it can pile up faster than old clothes in the basement. Coughlin estimates by 2010, a family could require 4.5 TB of digital media storage, but if one of them starts video recording their life, as one Microsoft employee is doing, that figure could soar to 100 TB.

Given these possibilities for massive libraries of content, how are consumers to find that particular photo or bit of video or music for which they are searching?

“In my mind, that’s probably the single biggest challenge out there,” he concedes.

Commercial content like movies and music have digital tags on them called metadata that can be used to organize them, but for digital content consumers created, like photos, videos or audio recordings, a virtual robot would have to be developed to tag them with metadata, because most people would not have the time to do so, Coughlin suggests.

Searching by image and sound instead of just by words also would have to be developed, he thinks, and off-site backup of data would become the norm. He praises arrangements such as that of disc drive supplier Seagate Technology LLC, Scotts Valley, Calif., in which off-site backup of data is provided in a package with on-site hard drive storage.

“We have the tools available to use, create and have stored a tremendous amount of content, but finding things and organizing it coherently is the biggest challenge, especially if it’s going to be a combination of personal and commercial content,” Coughlin concludes.