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Will Data Centers Soon Be Needed by Consumer Markets?

By: Kayla Matthews on March 25, 2019

For now, data center providers market almost exclusively to businesses. Whether those entities are retail brands or marketing agencies, companies have an increasing need to store their data off-site as it grows in volume.

However, some everyday people generate a lot of their own data, too, and there are technologies on the horizon that will almost certainly increase the output.

With those things in mind, it's worth investigating whether data centers will soon tailor their marketing efforts toward consumers, too.

Data Storage Advancements Could Lead to More Household Robotics

Many technologies coming into the mainstream send or receive data in amounts not imaginable a short time ago. Rodney Brooks is the director of a tech lab at MIT, and he asserts that household robots are among the things that changed the technology landscape. He says there are currently 2.5 million household robots in U.S. homes, but they were not used for that purpose in 2002.

Brooks believes that storage capacity for data is the main obstacle preventing robots from becoming more accomplished and autonomous. As the machines show autonomy to a larger degree, that factor will help bring more of them into homes. It'll also help when robots can take in more information at a faster rate.

However, such increases in storage may happen sooner than people expect. Brooks gave the example of how the first iPods had an extremely limited capacity, but several years later, people could buy versions capable of storing a million books. Brooks suggests that if the data capacity of robots increased similarly to that of iPods, every robot could store the equivalent of a detailed world map on a solid state disc.

Most robots on the market have such limited capabilities that they don't yet generate extraordinary amounts of data. However, if the connection between data storage and robot capabilities comes to pass, it's not difficult to envision a time when households might lease space in data centers to accommodate the information sent and received by their robots, or other smart tech they own.

Data Privacy May Drive the Desire for Consumer Data Center Space

It's also possible people may investigate ways to exert more control over their personal information and think data centers could help them do that. A recent joint effort from MIT and Harvard University researchers resulted in a platform called Riverbed that lets users control how third parties use cloud-stored data.

Riverbed works as a proxy between a user-facing application and the cloud. Before data gets transmitted to the cloud, Riverbed tags it with a set of permissions set by the person interacting with the app. Within the data center, the information gets stored in clusters containing the same agreements.

If the cloud server's code doesn't abide by those stipulations, Riverbed terminates the service. That concept is still in the experimental stages, but it supports how consumers feel more concerned — or confused — by what happens to their data. A 2018 survey found 48 percent of consumers don't know where or how companies use their information.

There's also a startup called Helm that sells personal servers for people to keep in their homes. Those devices encrypt information internally instead of sending it to the cloud. Helm offers email, contacts and calendar services stored on a user's own domain, whether one purchased from the company or elsewhere.

Helm lets people avoid using cloud services, but what if cloud providers appealed to consumers, made security of paramount importance and gave guarantees to prove it? Perhaps they could let consumers have more say in data usage without using an in-home device.

If users could log into an interface and choose storage or usage specifications, maybe they could use something like Riverbend, but at the data center level.

The Potential Link Between Autonomous Cars and Consumer Data Centers

Autonomous cars are in their early stages, but manufacturers have made exciting progress. As those advancements continue, it's possible that self-driving car owners may also need consumer data centers. According to one expert, a self-driving car could produce as much as one GB of data per second.

For now, the questions remain of who owns that data and whether car owners would have access to it. A Dartmouth University study dives into the "black box problem" leading to a lack of transparency in mapping data. Automotive companies typically claim the rights to the data, but there are examples of legislation pushing back. Moreover, if corporations own it, are they monetizing it in ways that don't meet customers' approval?

The Dartmouth paper's author suggests a future where autonomous cars have open-source frameworks that allow end users to access the information while the public benefits from the data those vehicles collect.

If a time comes where autonomous car data gets into the hands of the owners instead of the manufacturers, the sheer amount made could create another case for consumers to find data center providers.

A Possibility on the Horizon

It's too early to say for sure whether data centers will need to market to consumers soon. But the examples given here show why that's not a far-fetched concept.

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