Hosting 25 petabytes of data costs $9,000 per day.
In January, the US government forcibly took down file-hosting site MegaUpload on charges that it had broken anti-piracy laws. While - let's face it - there was an astounding amount of copyrighted material on the MegaUpload servers, the service was also used for perfectly legitimate reasons by many, including the US government. Now, nobody can access their data, whether it was copyright-infringing or completely legal - but that data hasn't gone away.
In fact, it's still sitting on the servers that MegaUpload had been renting from storage company Carpathia. This isn't a small amount of data that could fit into a few hard drives, either - MegaUpload was hosting 25 petabytes' worth of files. That's enough to store 332 years of HD-quality video, half of the written works in the history of mankind, or the Library of Congress 1250 times over. Hosting that much data on 1,103 servers isn't cheap; Carpathia is on the hook for $9,000 every day just to keep the MegaUpload files around.
If you're wondering why Carpathia doesn't just turn the servers off to save power - it's not like the files will go anywhere - that's not the problem. Carpathia says that the servers are worth approximately $1,250,000, and if not for the MegaUpload files it could be selling them or renting them out to customers who haven't been shut down by the government. The climate-controlled center in which the servers are being stored costs an additional $37,000 per month to maintain, but that's a comparatively small cost.
The US government refuses to make taxpayers foot the bill for hosting the servers, or the time it would take to sort through 25 petabytes of data to figure out which files are legitimate and which are pirated. Prosecutor Jay Prabhu says that Carpathia had made $35 million from MegaUpload over the years, and had received "thousands of notices" that its servers were being used to host illegal content. Ergo, the government was under no obligation to pay for its preservation.
It doesn't seem as though there are many options on the table, either. MegaUpload and the MPAA have both objected to Carpathia deleting the data outright, for wholly different reasons - MegaUpload because it intends to return the legally-owned files to users, and the MPAA because it sees the files as evidence it can use in lawsuits.
Nor can Carpathia simply return the files to MegaUpload. Prosecutors have blocked any attempt to pursue that path, citing concerns that the file-sharing website would simply take the data overseas to relaunch operations beyond the reach of the courts. "It's like trusting the thief with the money," said Prabhu.
Either way, you can't help but feel bad for Carpathia. It can't get rid of its servers or repurpose them while the litigation is pending, and nobody wants to sift through 1250 Libraries of Congress to figure out what's legitimate and what's not. So for the moment, all it can do is bite its lip and hang on the hook.