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  • Von: DOAG Online
  • 10/30/2018

Fun Facts on the History of Data Storage and Backup

Do you ever look back and wonder how you survived with floppy disks? Nowadays, the amount of information that can be stored increases at a high rate while storage devices are getting smaller and smaller, or – with the world wide web – are no longer visible to the user. Read on for a journey through time back to the beginnings of storage history and see how far we have come.

Punch Card

One of the earliest methods of data storage used with early computers were punch cards. These consisted of paper and had holes that were punched by machine or by hand. The holes in predefined positions, together with the absence of holes, represented digital information to be read by computers or machines. On the usual punch card, holes can be punched in 80 columns and 12 lines. Fun fact: The usual maximum line length of almost 80 characters in e-mails goes back to this punch card format.

It was Herman Hollerith who invented a punch card-based technique that was for the first time able to record and carry data to be read by a machine. At the time, the technology was developed for the 1890 US census. After that, the variety of punch card processing machines grew rapidly. By 1937, IBM produced 10 million punch cards every day.

Over the decades, punch cards had been replaced by other storage devices. However, they are still the subject of fun speculations: If one assumes that Google had a storage capacity of 15 exabytes, or 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, the region of New England would be covered to a depth of about 4.5 kilometers in punch cards in order to store the same amount of data (source).

Magnetic Tape

With the introduction of magnetic tapes as a storage medium in the 1960s, it was suddenly possible to store significantly larger amounts of data. One roll of magnetic tape could store as much information as 10,000 punch cards, which is why it became extremely popular for storing data until the mid-1980s. What is more, magnetic tape was also re-writeable – a fact that revolutionized the way that data was backed up. And, with magnetic tape, storage media was also used for the first time for private purposes – many of you still know magnetic tape as a tape or compact cassette for music.

Hard Drive

IBM had been developing the world's first hard disk drive (HDD) since 1953 and introduced it to the market in 1956: The IBM 350 storage drive was part of the IBM 305 RAMAC computer and had the dimensions of a living room cabinet: 68 inches high, 60 inches wide and 29 inches deep (173x152x74 cm). The box contained 50 iron-oxide coated aluminum plates with a diameter of 24 inches (61 cm). The storage capacity of the entire component: about 3.75 MB. It had an impressive weight of just under one ton.

Operating the hard disk was only possible with ear protection because of the its noise. According to IBM, the company built approximately 3,000 disk storage devices of the type „350“.

A smartphone with 16 GB SSD memory – that is about 4,000 times of the first hard drive’s storage capacity – would have block-like dimensions with the hard disk technology of 1956: 66 feet high, 131 feet wide and 33 feet deep (20x40x10 meters; source). Good thing that we can now easily transport this amount of storage in our trouser pockets.

Floppy Disk

Many of you remember the plastic discs that have accompanied us for years, and that we have grown fond of for introducing us to the fun of PC gaming with games like Lemmings, Monkey Island and Xenon 2. The first floppy disk was introduced in 1969 by IBM and was a read-only 8-inch disk that could store 80 kB of data (that’s about 1,000 punch cards). By 1973, the storage size had increased to 256 kb of data, being rewritable as well. In addition, with floppy disks being flat and no longer storing data on a roll, it was no longer necessary to store data sequentially. Now any data could be accessed and recovered instantly.

Later on, the floppy disk grew smaller, to a 3.5 inch disk, while at the same time allowing for more storage space, about 250 MB in the late 1990s. By being cheaper and more flexible than hard disks, floppy disks became very popular.


With the introduction of Compact Discs (CDs), the relatively low capacity of the floppy disk became a thing of the past. First invented by Philips and Sony together in 1979 as a digital audio disc, over the years it became a common way for home users and small businesses to do their backup once it became more affordable. CDs can contain up to 900 MB of data, which equals 500,000 pages of text in A4 format. In 2001, the CD was followed by the DVD and then Blu-ray, which can hold up to 50 GB of data.

Today: Flash Drives, Data Centers, Cloud

At the turn of the 21st century, USB sticks and external hard drives came to the market. Nowadays, you won’t find USB sticks that don’t hold multiple gigabytes, while for early models, it was normal to hold only a few megabytes of data. Almost everyone seems to have at least one USB stick in their drawer which, today, seems pretty useless due to its low capacity. The same development goes for external hard drives, while at the same time the costs per gigabyte became lower over the years.

With data centers and the cloud, data storage has been taken to a whole new level. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. What seems to be sure is this: With the ever-increasing data every day, the sky is the limit.