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 By the way, this is already outdated and smaller devices costing less offer capacity in terabytes.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