The History Of Back-Ups

The History of Back-Ups

There’s no doubt about it – we are spoilt. With external hard-drives, CDs, USB memory sticks, SD cards, online storage and multiple devices with vast memories we can save, access and back up our data more easily and more efficiently than ever before.

It’s not always been this way though. It’s not so long ago that floppy disks were prevalent, memory was measured in megabytes and smartphones were a mere glint in Steve Jobs’ eye.

CloudTweaks retraces the history of backing up from the advent of ‘modern’ computing through to today’s supercomputers.

The 1950s and 1960s – Punch Cards and Magnetic Tape

Modern computing can arguably said to have begun in 1949 with the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), and it was swiftly followed in 1951 by the Universal Automatic Computer I (UNIVAC I). These computers used vacuum tubes as main logic elements, rotating magnetic drums for internal storage of data and punch cards to input and externally store data. The ‘UNIVAC Tape to Card converter’ could read UNIVAC magnetic tape by using a UNISERVO tape drive, and could then punch the data onto cards at a rate of 120 per minute.

Ultimately, punch cards were slow, low-capacity and required a lot of devices. Therefore, during the 1960s, the punch card was replaced by magnetic tape. One roll of magnetic tape could store as much data as 10,000 punch cards and thus became an instant success. A tape drive’s reliability, scalability and low cost mean it remains an attractive back-up solution even today.

The 1970s and 1980s – Floppy Disks

The first floppy disk was introduced in 1969. It was a read-only eight-inch disk that could store 80 kB of data. The physical size of the disk got continually smaller while the memory size got larger. By the time floppy disks eventually disappeared in the late 1990s, it was possible to store 250 MB of data on а three-inch disk.

Floppy disk backup was not as wide-ranging as tape backup, but cost and accessibility of the disks meant they quickly became one of the most prevalent backup media among home users and small businesses.

The 1990s – CDs

The CD was invented by Philips and Sony in 1979, and just a decade late both the CD-ROM and CD-R had also been introduced.

In the early 1990s CDs were not commonly used for backups because of their high costs. However, as soon as CD-ROM drives became common-place on all computers in the early 1990s, prices for CDs plummeted – meaning backup on CD became very popular and widespread. The introduction of 4 GB DVDs in the mid-90s only served to strengthen their stranglehold on the market.

The 2000s – USB Sticks and External Hard Drives

Portable USB flash drives were invented in 1998, and Trek Technology and IBM began selling the first USB flash drives commercially in 2000. They had a storage capacity of 8 MB, which was more than five times the capacity of the biggest floppy disks.

Fast-forward to 2013 and USB drives are a ubiquitous part of computing. A 1 TB drive was unveiled at last year’s Consumer Electronic Show, and it is expected that a 2 TB model will follow shortly.

The 2010s – The Cloud

The first introduction of cloud storage providers first occurred during the ‘dotcom boom’ of the late-90s, but the initial years of these large industry Service Providers was more about understanding the importance of the service than capturing market share.

Today, as personal and business data storage requirements increase, most providers position their services using the SaaS (software as a service) strategy. Companies such as Dropbox, Google and Amazon all have plans that offer consumers more than 1 TB in online space, while the Chinese firm Weiyun now offers a mammoth 10 TB to its customers.

Do you yearn for the days of a floppy disk? Were you using computers and punch cards as far back as the 50s and 60s? Perhaps you don’t even remember the 1990s and have only known USB sticks and cloud storage?

By Daniel Price

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