Microsoft has been granted a patent for what it calls "Virtually infinite reliable storage" that works across a distributed storage system. This system is basically a logical file system that distributes copies of files across various physical storage resources, creating essentially an infinite amount of storage so long as there are enough storage resources available, while providing the user a single consistent view of his or her data.
This allows the user to access their data from any location or computer. Data is associated with the user for as long as they want. It can be erased after a certain time, or when the user is removed from the system.
Distributed storage is usually just local storage moved to a server. If that drive goes down, there goes your data unless you have a backup from which to restore it. If you need more storage, you have to request it from IT.
Microsoft's patent is for a technology that allows for individual storage to grow automatically as more physical storage is added to the network. It will configure itself and show up as a new drive to the user with no client-side interaction required.
"From the user's point of view, a single seamless storage resource is provided across multiple volumes. The various volumes may be located on separate physical storage devices and may be associated with the same or different computers in a network. Regardless of where data is physically stored and which computer is being used, and even if it is offline from the network, from the user's point of view the aggregate storage is presented simply as a larger C: drive (for example)," Microsoft wrote in its patent filing.
The patent also covers making backup copies of data. The technology would replicate the file system and all file metadata onto secondary storage devices, allowing separate hard drives to act as backup systems. If a drive fails and the object has a replication level greater than one (meaning two or more backups), then the user will never know that the hard drive has failed or might not even be there, because the data exists elsewhere and was seamlessly moved into place.
The patent is entirely PC-centric. It requires a local storage system connected to the network, which in turn is connected to a cloud environment.
It's remarkable how slow the patent process can be. Microsoft submitted this patent for approval in 2005.