From the dawn of civilization people have sought a way to store information for long amounts of time, ultimately forever. Ancient Egyptians built pyramids with their inside walls covered with hieroglyphics and even had their rulers mummified. Today, in the era of Facebook and Twitter we are experiencing very similar problems on a different level. It is estimated on a single day people exchange as much information as our grandparents did in early 1950s in an entire year. So where will we store all that data? This is the story of us and how we got here, the story about the history of data storage.
Several millennium before people used stone tablets to store their data. With the invention of paper writing became easier but, paper was not as nearly lasting as stone. The oldest known immediate precursor to modern paper dates to the 2nd century BC in China. Paper was an effective substitute for silk, as silk was also widely used in that age. Paper spread from China through the Middle East to medieval Europe in the 13th century.
Paper contributed to the creation of the very first modern form of data storage, the punch card created by Basile Bouchon in 1725. The punch card is a perforated paper loop used to store patterns rather than actual data. With a capacity of 960 bit, punch cards were normally used to store settings for various machines as the only known secondary storage at that time.
Invented in 1932 by Gustav Tauschek, drum memory was primarily used in the 1950s and into the 1960s as computer memory and as secondary storage. His original drum memory had a capacity of 62.5 kilobytes. In one of the first mass-produced computer’s an IBM 650 there was about 8.5 kilobytes of drum memory. They were in use until semiconductor memory entered the scene.
In early 1950s the magnetic tape changed broadcast and recording industries forever. Made of a magnetizable coating on a long, thin strip of plastic, magnetic tapes allowed unmatched amounts of data to be created, stored and rapidly accessed. Magnetic tape cleared the path for hard disk drives unveiled by IBM in 1956. The very first hard drive, was a true revolution in data storage, capable of storing up to 4.4MB. Since their introduction, hard drives have been under constant improvement and today, they are smaller, cheaper, faster and can store up to 5 TB of data. For several decades magnetic based was the the media of choice.
The first floppy disk was introduced in 1971 as a read-only 8 inch disk capable of storing 80 kB of data. Two years later, a disk with the same format factor had a storage capacity of 256kB and the ability to write new data. Since then, floppy disks have gotten smaller but with more data storage.
The compact disk, commercially available in 1982, was an evolution of LaserDisk technology developed by Philips and Sony independently. The CD was originally developed to store and play back sound recordings, but the format was later adapted for storage of data as in CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, VCD, SVCD, PhotoCD and other variations. Standard CDs have a diameter of 120 millimeters (4.7 in) and can hold up to 80 minutes of uncompressed audio or 700 MB of data. At the time of the technology’s introduction it had more capacity than computer hard drives common at the time.
The mass storage device used in portable electronic devices, CompactFlash was first specified and produced by SanDisk in 1994 and now used for a variety of devices. Most contain flash memory but some, such as the Microdrive, contain a hard disk in the same format. CompactFlash became the most successful of the early memory card formats. It remains popular and is supported not only in many high end consumer devices but in some professional applications, such as Canon and Nikon in their digital still cameras.
Another media which was not a market success nevertheless in use for almost a decade, primarily by floppy disk enthusiast, was the ZIP Drive. The Zip drive was introduced by Iomega in late 1994, originally launched with capacities of 100 MB, but later versions increased this to first 250 MB and then 750 MB.
The digital video disk or DVD is an optical disc storage format, invented and developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995. It was primarily developed to replace VideoCD as it has the same form factor but a much higher capacity and was eventually adopted as the media of choice for both video and data. DVD specification provide a storage capacity of 4.7GB for a single-layered, single-sided disc and 8.5GB for a dual-layered. There are two major DVD types, read-only and read and write for multiple sessions.
Following the invention of the Universal Serial Bus in the mid 1990s flash drives became the standard and media of choice for most computer users today. The USB flash drive is basically a memory chip attached to USB connector. USB flash drives were invented by Amir Ban, Dov Moran and Oron Ogdan, from the Israeli company M-Systems. USB flash drives come in a variety of storage capacities up to 1TB and are the largest USB drives on the market today.
During the first decade of the 21st century there were several media introductions like portable or external hard drives which are now available mostly with USB connections. On the other side optical media had one major breakthrough with Bluray able to store up to 128 GB of data in several layers.
Today, bloggers are writing about another important mile-stone the ability of storing data inside synthetic DNA chains. Soon we might be able to achieve our beginning and ultimate goal. To store data and make it last forever.
We’ve come a long way from stone tablets to DNA based storage. Some scientists claims that a single grain of sand can hold terabytes of data in its molecular structure. We will be there to witness this cutting edge of storage media in the near future. In the mean time don’t forget to back up your data!