Evolution of Storage Devices

Whether it’s a personal music collection, a photo album, a computer program, or a company’s business-critical systems, data storage is a must-have for nearly everyone today. As technology has evolved, computers have allowed for increasingly capacious and efficient data storage, which in turn has allowed increasingly sophisticated ways to use it.

These include a variety of business applications, each with unique storage demands. The storage used for long-term data archiving, in which the data will be very infrequently accessed, might be different from the storage used for backup and restore or disaster recovery, in which data needs to be frequently accessed or change.

None of these new data storage technologies would be possible, however, without a century of steady scientific and engineering progress. From the invention of the magnetic tape in 1928 all the way to the use of cloud today, advanced data storage has come a long way.

Machine-Readable Punched Card

The standard punched card, originally invented by Herman Hollerith, was first used for vital statistics tabulation by the New York City Board of Health and several states. After this trial use, punched cards were adopted for use in the 1890 census.

Magnetic Drum

Taushek, an Austrian innovator, invented the magnetic drum in 1932. He based his invention off a discovery credited to Fritz Pfleumer. Electromagnetic pulse was stored by changing the magnetic orientation of ferromagnetic particles on the drum.

Williams Tube

Professor Fredrick C. Williams and his colleagues developed the first random access computer memory at the University of Manchester located in the United Kingdom. He used a series of electrostatic cathode-ray tubes for digital storage. A storage of 1024 bits of information was successfully implemented in 1948.

Magnetic Tape

As early as 1951, magnetic tape was being used in the UNISERVO system to store computer data. The UNISERVO tape drive was the primary  I/O device on the UNIVAC I computer. Its place in history is assured as it was the first tape drive for a commercially sold computer. Although tape has largely been replaced by newer methods of data storage, it’s still used, especially for storing large amounts of data. This is because of its low cost. Modern magnetic tape is usually found in cassettes and cartridges, but initially, tape was held on 10.5-inch open reels. This “de facto” standard for computer systems lasted all the way through to the 1980s when smaller, less fragile data storage systems were introduced.

Hard Disk

A hard disk implements rotating platters, which stores and retrieves bits of digital information from a flat magnetic surface.

Introduced by IBM in the late fifties and 1960s. The earlier Hard Drives were immensely bulky and costly. However, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the most common form of internal secondary data storage (whereas CPUs and RAM are considered primary storage) in computers.

What made and keeps the HDD so popular is its high capacity, which far exceeds that of an average USB flash drive or DVD, and performance. Data on an HDD can be read and written relatively quickly. Magnetic heads read data off rapidly rotating rigid disks, also referred to as platters.


In 1966, Robert H. Dennard invented DRAM cells. Dynamic Random Access Memory technology (DRAM), or memory cells that contained one transistor.

DRAM cells store bits of information as an electrical charge in a circuit. DRAM cells increased overall memory density.

Floppy Disk

This relic of data storage emerged in the 1970s. By the early 2000s, it was almost completely out of use, replaced by sturdier, higher capacity devices like USB flash drives. A floppy disk was composed of a thin, flexible magnetic disk inside a flat plastic cartridge and lined with a fabric designed to remove dust particles from the magnetic disk. Floppy disks were produced in three main sizes. The 8-inch disk stored 1 MB of data, the 5.25-inch disk stored 1.2 MB and the 3.5-inch disk stored 1.44 MB.

Optical Storage Discs

Optical discs, including CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs, are flat, usually circular discs, generally consisting of a layer of reflective material (often aluminum) in a plastic coating. Data is stored on the discs in binary form, with binary values of 0 represented by “pits” and binary values of 1 represented by areas where the aluminum reflects light.


Blu-Ray (the 2000s) is the next generation of optical disc format used to store high-definition video (HD) and high-density storage. Blu-Ray received its name for the blue laser that allows it to store more data than a standard DVD. It can store an enormous amount of Data in its storage space of 400 nanometres.

Although still common, optical discs are currently being replaced by online data storage and distribution.

USB flash drive

A USB flash drive uses flash memory, which is non-volatile (meaning that it can get back stored data even after being powered off and then on again) and can be repeatedly erased and refilled with data – at least until the drive gets a corrupt sector. Flash drives are usually very small for the amount of data they carry. They have no moving parts and so aren’t highly susceptible to wear and tear, they’re cheap and they aren’t as prone to damage as optical discs. They also don’t rely on dedicated drives, instead using the standard USB ports included on all modern computers. Emerging into the market in late 2000, the earliest flash drives could store 8 MB of data. Today, flash drives that can store a terabyte of data are available.

Solid-state drive

The solid-state drive, which emerged commercially in the late 2000s, stores less data than the HDD but offers vastly superior read and write speeds. Whereas the average HDD reads data at about 75 MB per second, entry-level solid-state drives can read data at up to 600 MB per second. Because they contain no moving parts, solid-state disks are also far less prone to damage.

Cloud Data Storage

Improvements in internet bandwidth and the falling cost of storage capacity means it’s frequently more economical for business and individuals to outsource their data storage to the cloud, rather than buying, maintaining and replacing their own hardware. Cloud offers near-infinite scalability, and the anywhere/everywhere data access.