The evolution of data storage

The evolution of data storage

The capacity of data storage devices have increased at an incredible rate during the past decades.



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Data storage devices

  • punch card
  • magnetic tapes
  • floppy disks
  • optical discs
  • USB flash drives
  • SD cards
  • HDD
  • SSD


  • cloud computing


  • punch card
  • magnetic tapes
  • floppy disks
  • optical discs
  • USB flash drives
  • SD cards
  • HDD
  • SSD
  • Hollerith card
  • (1890 – 1960)
  • 18.7 cm x 8.3 cm
  • 45 columns, 12 rows
  • 80 byte (B)
  • (1952 – 1970)
  • 10 megabytes (MB)
  • (1970 – 1990)
  • 625 kilobytes (kB)
  • 1.44 megabytes (MB)
  • 1.2 megabytes (MB)
  • (1981 – present)
  • 650 megabytes (MB)
  • 4.7 gigabytes (GB)
  • 25 gigabytes (GB)
  • (2000 – present)
  • 1 – 256 gigabytes (GB)
  • (1994 – present)
  • 1 – 64 gigabytes (GB)


Strictly speaking, data storage had already started in Prehistoric times with cave paintings and continued in Ancient times with clay tablets and papyrus rolls. During the centuries, however, the amount of information to be stored has multiplied, thus newer and newer methods and devices have appeared.

In the modern sense, data storage started with the appearance of punch cards. The history of punch cards started with the 1890 US census. The 0.17 mm thick cardboard punch card developed by Herman Hollerith was standardised in 1928.
The first cards contained 45 columns and 12 lines, later the cards consisted of 80 columns and 12 lines. They were made by punching holes at predetermined places, coding one character per column in each row.

In the 1960s, magnetic data storage appeared and started to replace punch cards and punch tapes. The first popular form of magnetic data storage was magnetic tape. It provided a safe way to store a large amount of data. The only disadvantage of this type was serial access. Magnetic tape is still used for long-term data storage in archives.

The next step in the development of magnetic data storage was magnetic disks or floppy disks. Their most important advantage was random access, which significantly accelerated access to the data stored on the disks.
It was stored in concentric lines which were divided into sectors, one of the sectors being reserved for the File Allocation Table. Floppy disks were produced in various sizes and capacities.

The first optical storage discs appeared in the 1980s and later they replaced magnetic disks. Data is stored on an optically readable medium, using its light reflecting ability. These discs are written and read by laser beams.
The first type of optical discs used red laser beams, such as CDs, and DVDs which appeared later and had much larger capacities. Today the most advanced form of optical storage devices are Blu-ray discs, which use blue laser beams and have a capacity of 25 GB.

The most popular data storage devices today are USB flash drives. These are produced in various shapes. These drives consist of a flash memory chip and a USB interface enclosed in a small casing. They are quick and easy to use and they have a large capacity. By now floppy disks have been abandoned in favour of USB flash drives.

As the price of integrated circuits dropped, digital cameras, video cameras and mobile phones became widespread. These devices use memory cards to store data. These small cards are also manufactured in various sizes and storage capacities.

During the past 100 years, computer data storage has developed a great deal, especially in terms of storage capacity. The rate of development is increasing and thus in the future we will surely find even smaller devices with the ability to store even more data.

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