Memory and Storage: Then and Now
Much like squirrels hoard seeds and nuts for the winter, humans hoard things, too.
As a species, we collect and store a great many things — old coins, comic books, trading cards, jewelry, films, antiques, and more.
But the one thing that we have always felt the need to store and preserve is information.
From the days of cave paintings, thousands of years ago to today’s digital storage filled with business documents and selfies, the need to store and preserve memories and information for the future has proven to be an integral part of the human experience.
Today, we are tracking the evolution of the storage of data.
As the evolution is extensive and we are no historians, we will, instead, focus on the history of computer data storage.
Luckily for those of you with shorter attention-span, computer data storage only kicked off in the last 100 years or so — as opposed to caving paintings and scrolls with their thousands of years of history.
1890: Punch Cards
First used in 1725 in the textile industry to control mechanized textile loom, punch cards predated computers.
In the 1890s, however, Herman Hollerith adopted them for use in early computers to calculate the census of the increasing United States population.
Essentially a thick sheet of paper with holes punched through in various patterns that could then be interpreted, punch cards were used as a basic method data input/output.
Each row on the cards was a single character.
On average, each punch card could store 80 characters.
Well, as we all know from ranting on Twitter, 80 characters are far from enough.
Needless to say, punch cards are now, for the most part, obsolete.
1932: Magnetic Drum Memory
Gustav Tauschek invented this magnetic storage device in Austria in 1932 but the drums were only widely used as the main working memory of computers in the 1950s and 1960s.
The drums were so common in the ’50s and the ’60s that computers were often referred to as drum machines.
These drum machines contained a large rotating metal cylinder, coated on the outside with a ferromagnetic recording material.
Most of them had one or more rows of fixed read/write heads along the long axis of the drum.
In the 1950s, each magnetic drum memory’s capacity is only approximately 10 kilobytes.
You probably would not be surprised to learn then that these drums were soon replaced by magnetic core memory and hard disk drives.
1951: Magnetic Tapes
Magnetic tapes were invented for recording sound by Fritz Pfleumer in 1928 but were only used to store computer data in 1951.
The magnetic tapes were considered revolutionary in the 1950s because they could store an unprecedented amount of data.
They were usually stored in a roll form and the data could be read and recorded onto the tape using the read/write transducers in the head.
The amazing thing is that magnetic tapes are still widely utilized today, especially for storing media.
Because of its high capacity, low cost, and durability, magnetic tapes remain one of the best options for archiving data.
The magnetic tape’s technology would eventually mature into compact cassettes.
For the older readers: yes, this is the technology that made it possible for John Cusack to blast “In Your Eyes” in that iconic boombox-over-head scene.
For the younger readers who have no idea just what cassettes and boomboxes are or even who the heck John Cusack is, please at least Google the scene.
You do not want to miss out on this huge piece of pop history.
1956: Hard Drive
If you are feeling a tad overwhelmed with all these data storage variations that you had no idea even existed, hang in there.
We are heading back to familiar territories with hard drives.
The very first hard drive was the IBM Model 350 Disk File that came with the IBM 305 RAMAC computer.
The computer took up an entire room and the hard drive was about the size of a large wardrobe.
It also weighed a ton!
Despite its enormous size, it had a storage capacity of only about 3.75 megabytes and cost an exorbitant $10,000 per megabyte.
And you thought your WD My Passport is expensive?
As a result of its aforementioned size, the earlier hard drives were confined to data centers.
However, as technology progressed, the later versions entered offices, shops, and — eventually — homes.
1963: Cassette Tapes
Ah, good ol’ cassette tapes.
Each of these cult-favorites held a magnetically-coated plastic film which was passed and wound between two miniature spools.
These are all contained inside a plastic shell for protection.
Introduced by Philips in Belgium, they were initially designed for dictation machines but, somehow, people ended up using them for music distribution.
When Sony’s Walkman exploded in the market in 1979, it took cassette tapes along on its ride to massive popularity.
They soon became a popular way to store data for personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the first computers to utilize cassette tapes for this purpose was the Hewlett Packard HP 9830.
Many people opted to use cassettes as a cheaper alternative to floppy disks in the ’70s and the ’80s.
Each side of a 90-minute tape could fit about 600 kilobytes.
1971: Floppy Disks
The ultimate blast from the past, IBM developed — and very creatively named them “floppy” because they were flexible — the floppy disks as an alternative to the expensive hard drives.
Initially, each disk was a read-only at 8-inch and 80 kilobytes.
A rewritable version followed a year later and that soon became the industry standard.
Floppy disks were extremely popular because of their portability and were the catalyst for today’s bigger and better hard drives.
The United States military used the 1970’s IBM Series-1 computers — which came with 8-inch floppy disks — as part of its nuclear weapons systems and had only moved away to a “highly-secure solid-state digital storage solution” this past June. Yes, you read that right. This past June as in June 2019.
According to Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron, “… it’s the age that provides that security… You can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address.”
As for most of the public that does not have access to nuclear weapons systems, the disks fell out of favor and were almost obsolete by the 2000s.Their only legacy: the save icon.
1982: Compact Discs (CDs)
Yet another milestone in the evolution of data storage was the development of compact discs (CDs).
Philips and Sony produced the first commercial CDs in 1982, effectively replacing cassette tapes in the music industry.
This soon extended to the computer industry, too, with the development of CD-Rs (Compact Disc Recordable) and CD-RWs (Compact Disc Rewritable) — the latter which allowed users to write, delete, and re-write data on the discs.
1995: Digital Video Discs (DVDs)
Following closely behind CDs were the Digital Video Discs or DVDs.
A huge improvement in terms of storage capacity, the DVD format was introduced by Panasonic, Philips, Sony, and Toshiba after a format war.
Oh, yes, a war. It was a very exciting time for the data storage world.
The companies had been working on competing for optical disc storage formats and, as a result, IBM commissioned a group of technology experts to broker the competition.
After much compromise (and likely also frustration), the DVD format was the result.
Available in both read-only and read/write formats, the DVDs’ capacities are around 4.7 gigabytes to 15.9 gigabytes.
While not very common, they are still in use today.
1999: SD Memory Cards
Right before the turn of the millennium, SanDisk, Matsushita, and Toshiba collaborated to develop the Secure Digital (SD) Memory Card to compete with Sony’s Memory Stick.
The SD cards utilize flash memory and are a popular option for laptops, cameras, and phones because of their small size and portability.
As a result of the success of SD cards, mini and micro SD cards were also released in the later years.
Today, SD cards’ capacity is around 1 terabyte and they are still the preferred choice of photographers and videographers.Speaking of photos, find out these 7 best cloud storage for photos.
2000: USB Flash Drives
A new millennium, new storage device: USB flash drives.
Flash drives (alternatively thumb drives, pen drives, USB sticks, or memory sticks) were invented by M-Systems and use flash memory to store digital data.
Plug them into computers with a built-in USB plug and you can back up your data as well as transfer data between various devices.
Just as hinted by their name, flash drives are faster than earlier devices.
Not to mention, they have greater data capacity — ranging from 8 to 64 gigabytes.
SanDisk shows off their largest storage capacity USB flash drive of 4TB during the CES 2019. But we think it’s not going to shipped out considering the sky high price tag.
The facts that they could not be scratched, very much affordable, and could be written thousand of times ensure flash drives’ marketability and popularity.
They remain in demand even today.
2006: Cloud Storage
Just like its namesake, cloud storage is ubiquitous today.
J. C. R. Licklider invented the technology in the 1960s but the first commercial cloud storage service only came about in 2006 when Amazon Web Services introduced AWS S3 — their cloud storage service.
Other companies like Dropbox and SmugMug cashed in on this and followed swiftly in Amazon’s footsteps.
Well, it is a data storage system in which the data is stored on remote servers.
Users can access the “cloud” through the Internet.
A firm favorite of many — especially those of us here at (the name should have clued you in) GoodCloudStorage — because of its accessibility, scalability, and cost, cloud storage is often used alongside local storage to complement each other.
Spanning centuries, data storage has had a rich and extensive history since the days of punch cards.
This raises the question of what is coming next after cloud technology?
While we have no definite answer to that, we are very much looking forward to experiencing it.