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Data Storage Milestones

Adam RuthAdam Ruth

I was struck over this weekend by a couple of occurrences. First, I read through the below chart from Rackspace detailing the last 10 years of data storage. Second, I saw at my local office supply store a big “on sale” bin of Sandisk 4-GB USB flash drives for $7.50 (Australian, that’s about $46.18 for you Americans :-).  Both of these things got me to thinking about the milestones of storage that I’ve seen in my computing life.

The first USB flash drive that I bought was 512-MB for around $40. It was around 2001 or 2002.  It was solidly built, though, and I still have it. It works great but it’s just collecting dust these days. I now have a 1-TB portable USB disk which I carry around in my laptop bag. Not full, yet, but on the way.

Going further to the early 90s I worked for a graphics company that needed space to store all of the high resolution 3D renderings we were creating. So, they bought a few massive 5-GB drives. These were full height, full width drives and weighed a few pounds.  To format them we had to go into debug mode in MSDOS and directly send a few command bytes to their address location. Once we got them running, though, we felt like we’d never be able to fill them up.

Going back as far as I can go to the original IBM PC in aboud 1984 was the 20 MB disk that my father bought. That seemed so capacious I thought I was in heaven. No more swapping floppies and listening to that grinding/buzzing sound. It’s when I first learned about directories in DOS, something I never seemed to need for my little assiduously labeled plastic disk organizer that I got for Christmas. 

It’s at this point that I have to bow out and let some old PDP-11 operator win the “when I was your age” nerd pissing contest. But it never ceases to amaze me how much progress we’ve had over the last 30 years and it fills me with awe to think about where we’ll be 30 years from now. 

“1 terabyte?  You couldn’t even fit one dream recording on that, let alone store a digitized gourmet meal. Where did you keep your scanned pets?”  I imagine this is what my grand kids will say when I tell stories around the hologram camp fire roasting space marshmallows.

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