The History of Data Storage and Backup

As business data processing has evolved, so have the methods and best practices for data protection. We’ve come a long way since the early days of data backup more than a century ago. The business has progressed from punch cards and magnetic tape to access anywhere cloud backup. And technology won’t stop here — businesses are developing new solutions and new devices at such a rapid pace, their data requirements are continually evolving.

Below is a look at how we got here — how backup has evolved, where we are today, and where we’re going.

Punch cards: In 1880, the U.S. took its 10th census. But, since the nation was growing so fast, it took more than eight years to finish gathering the data from that census. And, it was predicted to take up to 13 years to do the same for the next census, which would mean the country would be taking a census while it was still compiling the data from the last census.

Herman Hollerith, a census bureau employee at the time, tried to figure out a more effective way of compiling all that data. To solve the problem, he turned to punch cards, which had been used for nearly 100 years in the French textile industry. Hollerith took that idea and made a simple machine that could read punch cards to record lots of different sets of data at once.

When a punch card was placed in the Hollerith machine, a series of needles would be lowered onto it. Any of these needles that passed through the perforated holes in the punch cards would make contact with a bed of Mercury that was under the card, which would close an electrical circuit. Each needle was hooked up to a counter, which recorded and tallied every time a needle passed through a perforated hole. This allowed for different sets of data to be recorded and tallied much easier.

Magnetic tape: Because punch cards processed data at incredibly slow speeds and were limited on storage, magnetic tape took over during the ‘60s and hasn’t completely gone away since. Video cassettes and cassette tapes are some of the most common and recent forms of magnetic tape storage.

Floppy disks: 40 years later, a field engineer at IBM, Alan Shugart, tweaked the magnetic tape idea to create the floppy disk drive. The idea was very similar to magnetic tape; using a magnetically charged material to record data, but it was the design of the floppy disk changed everything. Rather than storing the data on a roll, floppy disks were flat. This meant they did not need to store data sequentially, so any data could be accessed and recovered instantly.

Discs: Invented in the ‘70s by Sony and Philips, the CD didn’t become mainstream until the ‘90s because of high costs. An alternative to floppy discs, software companies like Windows and Adobe could ship their software on one CD, rather than a dozen floppy discs or more. While the ability to write wasn’t available at first, recordable CDs, followed by re-writeable CDs, eventually overshadowed every advantage of floppies. By the mid-90s, DVDs capable of holding as much as 4GB of data hit the market, turning optical disc technology into an onslaught, which carries on today with Blu-ray discs.

Data centers: In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the internet became a bourgeoning marketplace. Suddenly, businesses needed to have a consistent presence online. So data centers were built to backup data and ensure a consistent online presence.

Data centers are basically made up of lots and lots of hard drives, all plugged in together. At first, only larger businesses could afford to have their own data centers, which left smaller businesses at a disadvantage.

The modern era: USB devices, including USB sticks and external hard drives, began seizing the market at the turn of the 21st century. While early models held mere megabytes of data, it’s rare to find USB sticks now that don’t hold multiple gigabytes. External hard drives are breaking multiple terabytes of storage at lower costs than ever.

Locally-based storage devices will remain a staple for years to come but cloud computing is taking over the market because of its many advantages, including off-site backups, remote access to data and heightened security.

Find this sort of information intriguing and want to know more about how to back up your data? Get in touch with us! We’ll chat with you about times gone by and help you look to the future.