With hundreds of thousands of megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes being sent, transferred and downloaded every day across the internet, it’s easy to forget how we ever got to this stage of super-fast data retrieval. It wasn’t too long ago that social media wasn’t a part of our lives, before that, the World Wide Web was something experimental that was kept well away from the majority of the population. It may be relatively easy to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about times of old, when the instantly recognisable alien sounds of dial-up screeched their way through our homes, or when all computers – which, by the way, were finished in that brilliant off-shade of beige – came packaged with a copy of Encarta 95; but what isn’t so easy, is to think back to a time before any data could be stored at all.
In this feature, we’re going to look at data storage as a journey, attempting to track its birth and evolution through time, and uncover the milestones in its development from an initial concept to being the backbone of modern life and business.
How do we Define Data Storage or Computer Data Storage?
According to Wisegeek: ‘[…] data storage can refer to anything with information recorded on it. […] a hardback volume of an encyclopaedia, an audio cassette of a pop song, and even a piece of paper with random words written on it [could] all be considered examples’
If this is true, and the consensus is that it is, then humans have been storing data since the beginning of written history, and that means that everything from Prehistoric cave paintings to last week’s shopping list are examples of data storage in action. If we’re talking about computer data storage however, then the definition changes slightly, and we’re only dealing with, as Techopedia puts it: ‘a general term for archiving data in electromagnetic or other forms for use by a computer or device.’ From our example of the cave paintings, you can see that this is one of the first cases of a computer mimicking real life; a trend that has always been the foundation of technology.
It’s easy to think of the hard disk drive as the stand-alone storage format, since it’s inauguration as a huge unit containing only 3.75 megabytes in 1956, to its current state as a portable multi-terabyte device that quickly attaches to any computer system. The hard disk drive, although it has evolved greatly, has remained the top choice for storage, and like all good things, it came after a long line of not-so-good-things. Here’s a quick rundown of the storage devices that came, saw, but didn’t conquer.
The Start of Storage: Beginnings of Computer Stored Data
1920s – 1930s: The Magnetic Movement
Magnetic tape was an early storage solution, and that very same material would be used many years later for the inside of music cassette tapes. The magnetic tape first came about in 1928, thanks to German engineer Fritz Pfleumer, who used Valdemar Poulsen’s previous designs for magnetic wire as inspiration. Pfleumer eventually patented the tape in 1928, which would pave the way for Gustav Tauschek’s Magnetic Drum some years later. The drum started where the magnetic tape left off and managed to last way into the 1970’s, until it was unfortunately overpowered by the hard drive.
1940s: Delay Line Memory
Delay Line Memory was the predecessor to RAM, you could even call it RAM’s older brother, and it was arguably ahead of its own time. DLM worked very similarly to RAM, in that it was random, but it did have a few differences, such as the way it operated: it used electrical pulses and turned them into sound waves, processing them through mercury, then finally electrifying them. It was named ‘delay line’ because data could be sent constantly back and forth until it was needed, and although it never took off, it had a stint in World War Two to help with radar technology.
1940’s: Random Access Memory
It was at the University of Manchester that the first random access storage device was invented, and the Williams-Kilburn tube was the piece of hardware that did it. Random Access Memory allowed data to be read and written in the same amount of time, paving the way for modern RAM, which is vital for fast speeds and heavy workloads.
1950’s: The Hard Disk Drive
In 1956 the next advancement on from magnetic storage began to take shape in the form of the hard disk drive. The IBM 350 Disk Storage Unit was the first disk drive, and was made to be part of the IBM 305 RAMAC computer, holding a grand total of 3.75 megabytes. The 350 was the first in a long line of hard drives that eventually progressed us to where we are today.
Rapid Expansions: the Birth of the Digital Age and Cloud Storage
With the advent of the internet, and then fast broadband connections, the want and need to download, transfer and manage huge amounts of data from the comfort of our own homes – as well as in business – has become second nature. We now deal with data daily, on a scale never thought imaginable by the pioneers working to develop storage decades ago, with helium-filled 10 terabyte hard drives and cloud storage now available, it leaves us wondering: what will come next?
Data Storage is an important part of any business setup, and with the sheer volume of crucial data being accessed today, it’s essential that your solution is optimal. Give us a call on 0345 345 1110 and tell us about your storage situation, we’re more than happy to chat and listen. Alternatively, email us and we’ll get back to you.