From floppy disks to the cloud, storage capabilities have come a long way.
Data storage is one of the biggest issues facing modern companies, particularly those dealing in online sales or digital media. With individual JPGs occupying more space than 1980s’ hard drives could offer, and consumers expecting budget smartphones to host two years’ worth of video clips and apps, there is an incessant demand for ever greater levels of data storage.
In The Beginning…
It wasn’t always like this, of course. In the olden days, data storage was something of an irrelevance. A typical mid-80s’s PC like the IBM XT offered a 10MB hard drive that was rarely filled, while contemporary home computers like the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC had virtually no memory. They stored tape-loaded programs in RAM, and when the computer was switched off, the device was effectively restored to factory settings.
By the mid-90s, office PCs were offering 1GB of internal storage, but external storage remained extremely limited. Floppy discs were limited to 1.44MB, which was fine for backing up the web pages and low-resolution images of the day. However, as the internet introduced a new world of digital files, domestic and corporate consumers required ever-expanding storage capacities. The result was an incompatible soup of pumped-up Zip drives, writable CD (and latterly DVD) storage, plug-in HDDs, SD multimedia cards and USB flash drives. These were patented as recently as 1999, and initially offered just 8MB of space.
Third Party Storage
Over time, the plug-and-play simplicity and rugged solid-state storage of flash drives saw them supplant their fragile competitors to become a preferred method of data storage. However, as the internet expanded and connection speeds increased, it became possible to upload files onto third-party websites and access them on demand. Known today as cloud storage, early trailblazers included Box and Amazon, and their Web Services suite has become the foundation for industry-leading cloud storage services like Dropbox. With instant accessibility from anywhere in the world, cloud storage offers superior flexibility compared to solid-state USB devices and limited volumes of storage can be acquired free of charge.
One of the factors underpinning the success of cloud-hosted storage is the fact that people can view and access their files regardless of which device they’re using. This avoids the compatibility issues that dogged media files throughout the 1990s, with industry giants like Microsoft and Google helping to drive down prices and build public confidence. Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud was a pioneering infrastructure-as-a-service platform that allowed companies to contract out the hosting of applications, enabling firms to offer mass data hosting in secure online environments at competitive prices.
Today, data storage is a multi-billion dollar industry that increasingly takes place in climate-controlled warehouses with military-grade security. Given the amount of information stored online, an entire sub-market has developed around backup storage, such as RAID and automated tape backups. The level of processing required to handle online storage has been reduced thanks to streamlined packages like Windows Nano Server, and the ever-improving broadband speeds across the UK are reducing download times – and the markedly slower uploads. The advent of quantum computing may increase file sizes by an order of magnitude from today’s levels, but tomorrow’s 5G networks and fiber broadband cables should be able to handle the growing shift away from offline data storage towards cloud hosting.
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