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The result is that the smaller companies are pivoting to win market share, relying on specific submarkets or stronger feature sets rather than available space or price. "Box is trying to cater to special data storage needs, like digital versions of X-rays for health care companies and other tasks specific to different kinds of customers. Hightail is trying to do something similar for customers like law firms. And Dropbox? It is trying to make sure that its consumer-minded service stays easier to use than what the big guys provide." It's going to be tough for them to hold out, and even tougher for new storage startups to break in. But that might be the only thing keeping us from choosing between the Wal-Mart-A and Wal-Mart-B of online storage.
"This approach is very different," says Franck Marchis at the SETI Institute in California, who was not involved in the project. "I like it because it doesn't put any constraints on the origin of the civilisation or their willingness to communicate." Instead, it utilises the laws of thermodynamics. All machines and living things give off heat, and that heat is visible as infrared radiation. The G-HAT team combed through the catalogue of images generated by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which released an infrared map of the entire sky in 2012. A galaxy should emit about 10 per cent of its light in the mid-infrared range, says team leader Jason Wright at Pennsylvania State University. If it gives off much more, it could be being warmed by vast networks of alien technology – though it could also be a sign of more prosaic processes, such as rapid star formation or an actively feeding black hole at the galaxy's centre.