You are here:, Technical WritingThe Evolution Of Storage Through The Years

This is part 1 of a multi-part article series.


The realm of storage has transformed over the years, all the way from Punch cards to today’s cloud based storage. The main functions of storage when it comes to architecture is all about speed, size and latency, basically how much data can be stored and how speedily it can be accessed. Gather around children, I am going to tell the story of how far storage has come.

Punched Cards

During the 1960’s punched cards and paper tape were used to run programs and store data in most of the national Data Centres. There were many variants of Punched cards but the IBM-derived standard 73/8in x 31/4in with 80 columns and 12 rows was the tool of choice for many.

Data was represented by punched holes in each column, that was read by shining a light on the card which was represented as binary data. At that time the maximum capacity these cards could hold was a whopping 2 megabytes! What were you expecting? During that time that was a huge amount of data.

While Punched card technology dated back to the 19th century, another technology was being worked on and would take the lead into the next evolution.


Magnetic tape

This had originated as a means of recording music in the 1920s, but by the 1950s it was available as a means of data storage. It could handle reading and writing data up to 320Kbps and had a capacities in tens of Megabytes. Later Magnetic tapes became disk packs, which was very similar to the technology of today’s HDDs. As time moved on the switch from card and paper based storage to magnetic disk became inevitable as they had superior access read and write times along with capacity. But like the paper and card based storage technologies magnetic tape could only read data sequentially.


Step in the Disk Drive

The huge benefit of disk drives was that it transformed fetching data sequential to getting it randomly, so no longer would a whole entire card deck or paper or magnetic tape have to be read just to find one piece of information. During this time (being around the 1970’s) someone seeking data from storage regardless of the format had to physically walk to a data centre to retrieve it, but as the disk drive improved it became smaller and ushered in the time of the Workstations, where all required data was sitting right there on the desktop, this lead to the client-server model.

To be continued in part 2

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