196 BC to 2021and beyond: a data storage odyssey

Some would argue that cave painting was the earliest form of data storage, although the messaging was hardly transportable. 

A better candidate emerged when early civilisations set out their ideas on stone tablets, a write-read situation.  The Rosetta Stone can be considered the planet’s first key to data decryption for allowing us to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Until its discovery in 1799, no-one could read ancient Egyptian tablets. But the stone shared a 196 BC message chiselled in Ancient Greek, which archaeologists knew, as well as two Egyptian languages which they didn’t.

The data announced that priests of a temple in Memphis supported the king. Kind of tame compared with today’s political mayhem.

Fast forward a couple of millennia or so, to our modern definition of data storage. The timeline goes thus:

  • Punch cards (1725-1975)
  • Punched tape (1846-1990s)
  • Selectron tubes (1946)
  • Magnetic tape (1951-present)C
  • Compact cassette (1970s-1980s)
  • Magnetic drum (1950s-1960s)
  • Floppy disk (1969-present)
  • Hard drive (1956-present)
  • Flash memory (early 80s to present)

Shortly after tape drives emerged, IBM developed the hard disk drive which was shockingly expensive at multi-thousand dollars for a few megabytes of storage. But soon the new tech was incorporated into the personal computer, allowing files to be stored and accessed easily. The rest, as they say, is history. 

By the end of 2020, the World Economic Forum estimates that our digital universe will have created 44 zettabytes of data. Confused by zettabytes?  OK, think 44,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, or 40 times more than stars in the known universe.

Back on Earth, we are left with the pressing problems of what to do with all this data. How to store it, how to keep it safe, how to identify the relevant bits (or bytes) and how to access these.

Along with exploding data volumes, backup and retrieval has advanced exponentially over the years, progressing from slow, expensive and often unreliable, to exceptional.

Today’s more innovative vendors are delivering an experience that empowers organisations to run their operations as a true, automated, storage as-a-service model seamlessly across multiple clouds.

Such companies help customers to put their data to use while reducing the complexity and expense of managing the infrastructure behind it. The best have certified customer satisfaction scores in the top one percent of B2B companies.

They can enable multi-cloud. They are able to accelerate applications, drive mission-critical uptime and deliver consistent response times for enterprise applications and databases. Enable multi-cloud, moving workloads seamlessly to and from clouds to support changing business needs, while simultaneously eliminating risk.

Leading vendors have also modernised data protection, delivering always-on end to end protection to improve security and resilience for hyper-connected environments. By activating analytics and artificial intelligence, such vendors allow their customers to accelerate time to insight, capitalise on information, and simplify management and data access everywhere.

With such a breathtaking expansion of data volumes, where is data storage heading?  Here’s a clue: check my favourite headline: ‘Scientists put the Wizard of Oz on a strand of DNA’. Or consider another: ‘Georgia Tech secures grant to smash an Exabyte of data into a DNA sugar cube’.  

The information density of DNA is amazing — a single gram can store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes of data. Microsoft and the University of Washington are among researchers delving into this fascinating technology.

Other intriguing research covers the storage of data in bacteria. Students at Hong Kong’s Chinese University have discovered that more than 900 TB of information on a hard drive can be stored on a single gram of bacteria.

Yet more potential data storage media include:

Sand –  By reducing a single carbon crystal one atom at a time using nanomachinery, sand can hold over 1 billion megabytes of data.

Helium drives – These use less power to spin disks, running cooler and allowing users to pack more data on to each disk.

Holographic storage – By using layers of tiny holograms, DVD-sized disks that are able to store 500 GB of data.

Quantum Storage: Scientists are working on this technology to provide instant data syncing between two points anywhere. At present quantum can store only tiny amounts of data for a very short timespan, but if it works it will advance storage technology yet further into the future.

With all these intriguing options, where can the data storage odyssey be heading?  The answer: To an utterly fascinating future!

Published by prdeadlines

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