A brief history of the world of data storage

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Today we have cloud services, wireless hard-drives and USB sticks with vast memory capabilities…but how did we reach such this cutting-edge level in the world of data storage?

In this article, we try to provide a quick historical overview of the evolution of these data “containers”.

The 1940s and punched cards

To be exact, you should go back a year or two further and examine the punched cards through which melodies were recorded and then automatically reproduced by pianos in the classic saloons of the Wild West. These became a complex system of cards that, used with the first electromechanical computers, enabled programs to be executed, data to be saved, and work to be resumed from the point where it had been left off.

As with the majority of consumer technology, the first place these systems appeared was the military. During the Second World War, in fact, the Allies used electromechanical computers to decipher the coded messages sent by the German navy and air force.


The mid-1950s: the magnetic tape

Within a few years, the perforated paper tape (a natural extension of the cards) gave way to magnetic tape. This involved a long ribbon made from plastic and covered with iron oxide, capable of storing a large amount of data on a single roll. The magnetic tape had the advantage of considerably speeding up the process of reading, creating, and storing data, as each tape was capable of containing up to 225 kilobytes, the equivalent of 1920 punched cards. This new technology revolutionised the audiovisual industry during the 1950s and 60s.


The end of the 1950s: a revolution known as the Hard Drive

In 1956 IBM brought the first hard drive to market – and, just like the current ones, it consisted of disks covered in magnetic material that were run at high speed. Unlike the magnetic tape, data could be saved in a random order rather than sequentially.


The 1970s was the age of the convenience of the floppy disk

The first floppy disks that appeared in the 1970s were large disks (8” in diameter and 24cm) made of plastic and likewise covered with a magnetic material. Over the years they underwent a drastic reduction size-wise and, above all, began to be encased in plastic, an addition that meant they could continue to be used despite dirt and wear. In their most advanced form, floppy disks were able to hold up to 1.44 megabytes.


In the 1980s the CD-ROM changed everything…again

The CD-ROM (Compact Disc – Read Only Memory) made its first appearance in the mid-1980s thanks to the ingenuity of Sony and Philips. First came the Mode1 model, which allowed only computer data to be saved, while the Mode2 also allowed the storage of graphic and, above all musical, data, up to a maximum of 700 megabytes – or 486 floppy disks. The musical data storage capability ensured a true revolution in the music industry, ejecting vinyl’s 33rpm from its place as top format.


The evolution of the CD in the 1990s: all aboard the DVD!

Physically identical to the CD-ROM, DVDs appeared in the mid-1990s. These supported different ways to read and write data, and as such could contain much more information than a single CD. With their 4.7 gigabyte capacity, a DVD was the equivalent of about 7 CD-ROMs.


The first half of the 2000s: USB sticks and their flash memory

Mass storage devices with the ability to ”plug and play”, equipped with flash memory and Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface, USB sticks experienced an instant success that continues today thanks to their practicality (they are no larger than a lighter and weigh little more than 30 grams). Today, USB sticks can contain up to 125 gigabytes of data.


With Tribe, USB data storage also becomes fun!

We at Tribe understand that the human factor is just as relevant in the technology sector. That’s why all our USB sticks are linked to the world of entertainment, to make data storage enjoyable


The final frontier of data storage: Cloud Storage

For some years, data storage media have been abandoning their material form and taking on a more ethereal one. The spread of the internet has created the need to store data anywhere and at any time, and so Cloud Storage was born (literally, storage in the clouds). Thanks to this new storage method, you need just a smartphone or a laptop and an internet connection to access your Cloud Storage, view the existing data and save new things too.

There is currently up to 1 exabyte of data in the cloud (1 trillion bytes, the equivalent of 1 million terabytes): more or less 500 million 2-terabyte hard disks, 8 million 192 thousand 125-gigabyte USB sticks, about 218 million DVDs, or 9 million billion punched cards. It’s certainly come a long way, but for all the questions about security issues and data breaches the preferred storage method still remains the dear old USB stick.




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