From the Magnetic Drum to the Cloud – A Brief History of Data Storage

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In my earlier blog post, “A Day In Data: How Much Data We Generate and Consume in a Day” I examined the common data-related tasks and the amounts of data these tasks generate and consume in a day. When I finished my research, I was blown away by some of the figures I found. Did you know that 2.9 million emails are sent every second?! Or how about the fact that 20 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute? Now that’s a lot of cat videos!

I was so interested in these figures that I decided to look at how we have stored data throughout history. In my info-graphic, i have chosen 8 “turning points” in data storage technology from the 20th century. I included the magnetic drum, magnetic tape, hard drive, floppy disk, CD-ROM, flash drive, solid state drive and cloud storage. One thing that kept standing out to me was the rate at which storage power grew at every turning point.

Let’s use the CD-ROM as an example. The CD-ROM was released in 1988 with an original capacity of 194 KB. Now, fast forward 12 years to the advent of the flash drive. Flash drives are a far more portable medium with a much higher storage capacity, which is also compatible with virtually any device. Over the span of 12 years, the USB drive had exponentially increased portable storage capacity from 194 KB to 128 GB! This huge jump demonstrates just how important data storage is to us, and the innovation it can foster.

As data continually grows into what we call “big data,” people again we have to rethink data storage (take a look at my SKA Project blog). These immensely large data sets are growing beyond the bounds of today’s physical storage. The need to store, and analyze, this data has inspired a push towards cloud storage. Now, I’m sure we all are familiar with the cloud by now, I use it every day to view my notes across multiple devices, share notebooks with my colleagues and to save photos in an easily accessible location. Sure, my personal examples show how convenient the cloud is from a consumer perspective, but to understand the cloud from a mass-storage perspective, we should turn to an enterprise scenario.

Let’s imagine we work for a oil company called Murphy’s Oil. Murphy’s Oil is mapping the ocean floor and this project has generated many petabytes worth of seismic reading data. Now, how will Murphy’s Oil store this data effectively? Moreover, how will they move it? Obviously, traditional hard drives aren’t suitable, and building a data center can be a very costly endeavor, which may have a long period of downtime before becoming operational.

Luckily, Murphy’s Oil chose the cloud as their solution. Not only is the company able to store all of the data created, but the amount of storage can rapidly scale out as required. There is also an added bonus to using the cloud; Murphy’s Oil employees and executives all have access to the data anywhere – from the offsite location to the central headquarters.

The way we store our data has certainly changed, but what’s most interesting to me is that the way people think about storage all together has changed; our data is no longer bound to the dimensions of a disk. Not only have advancements in technology provided larger storage capacities than ever before, it has fundamentally changed the way we store, retrieve and interact with our data. With the rise in enterprise cloud usage comes a whole new can of worms concerning security, but I’ll save that for another post.

What do you think the next form of storage will be? Put on your Nostradamus hat and leave your vision of the future of storage in the comments below.