An Ocean of Knowledge
John Kubiatowicz, Computer Scientist
The most prosaic worry can spur invention. As a Boston-area graduate student, John Kubiatowicz fretted that a bus might run over his laptop and annihilate his thesis work. Now a computer scientist at the University of California-Berkeley, Kubiatowicz has a vision for the Internet that would ensure that no bus, or crashing hard drive, could again threaten data.
His OceanStore project would spread information across thousands of computers and preserve it for centuries. It sounds grandiose, but a prototype could be running next year.
The scheme relies on "peer to peer" networking, made famous by file-sharing services like Napster. "It's the same technology that most people today use for stealing music," says Kubiatowicz. But few visions of file-sharing go as far. "Kubi was early in articulating a grand vision of what might be accomplished," says Frans Kaashoek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who works on related technology.
The software would split a file into many parts for storage and constantly update and move data as computers came and went on the Internet. Data could still become unreadable if file formats changed, however. "All we do is keep the bits for you," says Kubiatowicz.
OceanStore would overwhelm today's bandwidth and processing power. The payoff: a system that would take care of itself, and the data it holds, indefinitely. Says Sean Rhea, a Berkeley graduate student working on OceanStore: "The idea is that you'd turn it on and not worry about it again."
KEEP AN EYE ON: PAUL MARTIN He will not call President Bush a moron, as did one of his predecessor's aides. Instead, Martin, Canada's new prime minister and its former finance minister, will try to make nice with his feisty superpower neighbor to the south after months of strained relations. That could be a tough job, eh?
This story appears in the December 29, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.