Lunar Backups—True Off-Site Storage?

The moon may soon be home to your backup files

Moments ago, as I sat down to write this column, I received an e-mail from someone offering me an acre of land on the moon for $29.99. The advertisement said that two presidents had already bought acreage on our nearest neighbor in space and cautioned me that now was the time to stake my claim as prices had risen substantially since 1981, the year that the program began. Back then, according to the ad, you could buy 1777 acres for just $10.00. Now nearly triple that price nets you only one acre – and it might be on the dark side at that!

I would have just written off the ad as a Halloween prank had it not been for some other news I have been sitting on for these past few weeks. In July, TransOrbital of LaJolla, CA announced that it was planning to drop servers, storage, and high-bandwidth laser communications equipment on the lunar surface for the purpose of backing up Earthly data there.

According to the company, the prospect of off-site backup on the moon had appeal as a safe alternative. With the exception of the occasional small asteroid hit (which seems to have produced some pretty big craters, I think), the moon is devoid of the hurricanes, earthquakes (aren’t there moonquakes?), terrorist attacks, and other potential threats that wreak havoc with data repositories earth-side.

Anyway, the company has become the only one licensed by the U.S. military and U.S. State Department to send a commercial mission into space at present, and it intends to follow up its successful December 20, 2002 rocket test with a real lunar visit as early as the first quarter of 2004. Obtaining the license took two and a half years, according to spokespersons for the company—a long time, but worth the wait.

Sort of like how long it would take to retrieve files from lunar repositories, even using wide bandwidth laser communications protocols. The good news is, however, that users will be able to confirm that their servers are up and running by going to a web site that will continuously update Web cameras dropped with the servers to the lunar surface. (I am uncertain whether this method of backup would pass muster with regulators for the SEC, but you can bet that there are a number of chief financial officers who wish they had been able to test the proposition.)

Now, this is not the first time that the final frontier has been targeted by technologists. A few years back, there was an earnest effort by one of the founders of the Internet to gain NASA approval for a “clustering satellite” that would be placed into orbit around the moon, and maybe even Mars, where it would open and belch out a string of small, solar-powered communications servers, each with its own TCP/IP v6 address, thereby extending the Internet into space.

New domains would have be needed, of course, such as .moon or .mars, and the visionary doubtless anticipated that these addresses would become as trendy as .net was a few years ago. Perhaps he argued that the bidding wars for the resulting URLs could potentially fund the project.

While I am not sure what became of the effort, I am reasonably certain that the Martians would not have appreciated the flood of e-mail spam and viruses that would have inevitably accompanied such an effort. And now that Napster is yesterday’s meatloaf, the blush is off the rose of the one potentially valuable aspect of the arrangement: free pirated MP3 and video files.

Next week we'll look at other storage news back here on earth.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.