Data storage -- then and now

As size of storage drives shrink, capacity increases -- dramatically. Here is a look at how data storage it has changed over the last six decades.

How are we keeping up?

This year, the amount of stored data will grow to 2.16 zettabytes worldwide, according to IDC. By 2016, it will have grown to 3.77 zettabytes. As remarkable as we are at creating data, storage technology has kept up.

Data storage is the fastest growing semiconductor technology going. Tape storage, hard disk drives and solid state storage capacities have generally doubled every 12 to 18 months.

Desktop drives today come in 4TB capacities (5TB later this year); That's enough to hold 1 million photos or 562 hours of high-definition video.

By 2020, Seagate believes heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) will provide you with a 60TB desktop hard drive. That’s enough for 12 million photos or 6,750 hours of HD video.

The microSD card -- 128MB to 128GB in under a decade

With capacities growing at the rate of 175% annually, and compared with hard disk drive technology -- over 60 years old -- NAND flash memory is still young and on the move.

In 1987, Toshiba announced the first NAND. By 1995, the company introduced a 40MB memory card for cameras. Less than 20 years later, microSD NAND memory cards smaller than a fingernail can store more than one hundred billion bytes of data.

How much can you store on a 128GB NAND flash card? How about 32,000 songs, 27 DVD movies and up to 250,000 photos. While standard planar NAND flash is running up against a capacity wall, 3D NAND promises to continue to grow capacity well into the future.

The hard disk drive capacity increases one million times

In 1956, IBM introduced the first hard disk drive, the RAMAC 350 (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control). The RAMAC 350 had 50, 24-in disk platters and weighed about a ton. It could store up to 5MB of data, or one .mp3 song, at a cost of about $1,000 per megabyte.

Today, a 3.5-in desk top drive can store 4TB of capactiy (5TB later this year), or about three-quarters of a million .mp3 songs (760,000). Data center drives, filled with helium, can store up to 6TB. Think that's alot? By 2020, Seagate expects a technology called heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) to afford us 10 times that (60TB desktop drives). That’s enough for 15 million songs or 6,750 hours of HD video.


Enterprsie disk storage

It's hard to believe the first EMC Symmetrix hard drive storage array, built for big corporate data, held far less than the typical USB thumb drive today. On the left is EMC's Symmetrix 1. It had four disk drives and held up to 2GB of capacity and had 256MB of memory.

On the right is today's 10th generation EMC Symmetrix VMAX. One cabinet holds 240, 3.5-in disk drives for up to 2 petabytes of data and has 128GB of memory; that's a million times more storage than the first array -- a little more than two decades earlier. The latest storage arrays also offer all flash memory storage with up to two million input/output operations per second (IOPS).

Size matters

On top is a Dysan Disk Pack with 200MB of capacity that weighed 10 lbs. The Disk Pack would be loaded into an IBM 1311 Disk Drive (think washing machine in terms of size). The Disk Pack was among the first removable disk storage technologies, which began in 1965 with 14-in disk drive platters. Each disk had 20 sectors. One sector (100 characters) could be transferred at 50KBps.

Fast forward to today. On the bottom is a Toshiba PCIe 512GB NAND flash drive that you could find in a top-end mobile device. It can achieve a 2GBps throughput through its four PCIe 2.0 I/O lanes. The drive achieves its enormous capacity through transistors that are only about the size of an atom (19 nanometers).

Shrinking the drive

On the left is the RA80 disk drive from DEC. It was among the popular 14-in platter disk drive technologies of the 1970s. The RA80 disk platter had 1,092 tracks with 31 sectors, each capable of storing 412 bytes of data.

On the right is an 8GB Microdrive from Seagate. Microdrives, launched in 1999 by IBM, came in 1.8-in, 1-in and .85-in sizes and were popular for use in MP3 players, such as iPods. Discontinued in 2009 as NAND flash storage took over in mobile devices, microdrives are a good example of how the harddrive industry been able to shrink the areal densities.

Today, a 2.5-in 2TB laptop hard drive sports an areal density of 760Gbits per square inch.

NAND flash solid state storage

Solid state drives (SSDs) were too expensive for most only a few years ago, but today they cost as little as .50 cents per GB. SSDs are the cheapest way to turboboost a computer. Some SSDs sport data transfer speeds more than five times that of hard drives.

SSD capacities increased as the size of NAND flash transistors decreased, and the number of bits of data stored per transistor grew from one to three. Today, NAND flash transistors are as small as 19 nanometers, or about the size of an atom.

As 128Gbit NAND dies, 3D NAND and Resistive Random Access Memory (RRAM) is more widely introduced, consumers can expect a quadrupling of SSD capacity. Some day soon, smartphones may come with hundreds of gigabytes of capacity.

Tape's dead, right?

Since magnetic tape storage emerged in the early 1950s, its death knell of has been proclaimed so many times, it's become an industry joke. Tape is still less than half the cost of disk drive storage.

On the left is an IBM 726 tape drive (Circa 1952), which held two 1,200-foot long, half-inch wide magnetic tape. Each large reel could hold 2MB of data.

Today, tape cartridges (think 8-track tapes), can hold more than 6TB of data. By 2022, cartridges are expected to hold 128TB.

On the right is an IBM TS3500 tape library. A base tape library cabinet can store up to 12 TS1140 tape drives and 260 4TB cartridges, or just over 1PB of capacity -- enough for more than 13 years of HD video.