Monday, July 25, 2011

How High is Up

Everyone knows computers have become smaller, faster and cheaper. Moore's law is often cited and frequently some new chip demonstrates this law is still very much in effect. Memory, too, has reached new heights in capacity, yet consumes less physical space than ever before.

But few people realize that storage has experienced a similar, rapid growth in capacity and speed, while shrinking to unbelievably small sizes.

My first close encounter with mass storage devices came back in the late '70s when disk storage units were the size of your average washing machine and held an incredible 80 megabytes of data. That's not a typo. The actual disk was a five platter assembly with each platter roughly 24 inches across. It could be removed from the unit and stored off-line allowing for multiple 80mb sets of data. It was part of a Prime 400 mini-computer system. The main cabinet housing the processor, memory, controllers and power supply was the size of a small refrigerator.

I recall when we upgraded the system to 300mb drives, and later 550, 800 and finally 850mb disk drives. These larger units were non-removable, sealed containments but only consumed space equivalent to a file drawer. I marveled at the amount of data we could store inside these boxes. They cost thousands of dollars.

Today, we purchase disk units measured in gigabytes or terabytes, and you can easily hold them in your hand. They are assembled into complex arrays offering unparalleled speed and reliability, or they are delivered in storage attached network (SAN) form providing a host of other benefits including flexible management, pooling and sharing among multiple computing systems.

A couple of years ago I added a Seagate 300GB external drive to use as backup to the dual 200GB drives of my home system. Sitting comfortably on my desk was a little box two inches wide, five inches high and five inches deep which hold 1,000 times the information of those washing machine size boxes of yesteryear. It cost less than $100. By the way, this is already outdated and smaller devices costing less offer capacity in terabytes.

Last week I read an interesting blog entry. BackBlaze published the design of a unit with 135tb of capacity which could be built for about $7,500. You can read it here.

It is truly remarkable how far we have come.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC


  1. We started at about the same time I guess..... my initial steps in the IT world were back in 1976.

    Incredible progress and miniaturization indeed, and in such a short time. I wonder of the earth's downfall will be equally logarithmic from here on. But hang on, that's a different discussion.

    There's a DOWNSIDE to all this storage. And I am painfully aware of it, now that my newly acquired and failed 2 Terabyte disk failed the other day.

    Not only did I lose a bunch of data that would have filled a major company in the old days, I also for the love of me NOT remember what exactly I put on it! Yes, part is duplicate backup of other Terabyte disks... but some of it was 'new'.

    Now, when I still owned a Commodore 64, I would WRITE, on real paper, what I had stored on the cassette tapes that I had filled with programs and data. Later on I would type it into a simple word processor and PRINT the lists.

    And over time more eloquent and automated systems evolved and appeared in IT Land.

    But for the love of it, I cannot envisage ANY system that my human mind can use, keeping track of all the stuff I keep on 6 computers and a grand total of 8,5 Terabytes.

    Talk about data overflow?

  2. Very interesting point, Francois. There are those who embrace the "cloud" for exactly this reason. The future is multiple devices, particularly tablets and smart phones. Your applications and, more importantly, your data must reside in the cloud to be available across all the devices you frequently use.

  3. And who's backing up the cloud? For all the talk of "the cloud", it's still just an infrastructure shift, and all of the old principles still apply.

  4. That is an interesting observation, David. Indeed, it is incumbent on the purchaser of cloud services to ask the right questions such as how will my data be protected from loss due to errors, technical failures or theft? I actually address this in Friday's post Head in the Cloud - Part II.

  5. Hmmmm.... I just had a run-in with my webspace provider today, who is advertising - and has been for years - unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited mySQL databases, email accounts etc.

    All of a sudden my accounts showed BLOCKED today... upon research it turned out that 'unlimited' only meant for 'websites' and the small print had a gazillion exceptions. Needless to say their support was less than stellar and they sent the warnings to the wrong address, or not at all.

    This does apply to Dave's worry about the safety of your data, reliability of 'the cloud' and, in fact, of the world around us (I just lost a 2 Tb disk with backups before we left on vacation).

    This morning I was looking at a loss of 6 years of data, actually.

    So yes..... in the cloud... at a price... AND on a number of other places I'd say - like in my garden shed, my office, my holiday home and maybe at a good friend's place?

  6. Sorry to hear about your recent troubles, my friend. Perhaps you will get something out of tomorrow's column. It deals with some special considerations when using cloud service providers.