The History of Data Backup

It’s hard to imagine a time before cloud storage, multi-terabyte external hard drives, and pocket-sized USB drives. Just a century ago, data backups were still literally hard copies of information transcribed on paper – the gold standard for more than some millennia. But the breakneck speed of the 21st century wouldn’t be possible if not for the evolution of data backup.

We won’t spend time hashing every detail in history on data backups; you can read about the painstaking processes of ancient oral traditions or cuneiform some other time. Instead, we’ll look at the birth of modern data backup devices beginning in the mid-20th century.

The ‘50s and ‘60s – From Punch Cards to Magnetic Tape

The father of data backups made technological strides, while still paying homage to the past: the punch card. It was a sheet of paper lined with dots that were literally punched out to “store” computer commands or data for running processes. Because punch cards processed data at incredibly slow speeds and were very limited on storage, magnetic tape took over during the ‘60s and hasn’t technically gone away since. Video cassettes and cassette tapes are some of the most common and recent forms of magnetic tape storage. While these have become completely obsolete, Sony continues to show the world how relevant magnetic tape remains.

The ‘70s and ‘80s – The Rise of Floppy Disks

While technically introduced in the late ‘60s, the floppy disc entered the public marketplace in the early ‘70s as an exclusive data storage component for IBM systems. Memorex and other companies began selling the discs separately by the turn of 1972. Through the years, these storage devices evolved from massive 8-inch disks, eventually into their final state at 3.5 inches. While their size shrunk, the amount of storage each could hold increased, from 80kB at inception to 250MB when they fell into disuse. Backward compatibility and constant changes in the disks’ physical dimensions played a key role in its demise.

The ‘90s – Plummeting CD Costs and the Evolution of Optical Discs

Invented in the ‘70s by Sony and Philips, the CD didn’t become mainstream until the ‘90s because of high costs. An excellent alternative to floppy discs, software companies like Windows and Adobe could ship their software on one CD, rather than a dozen floppy discs or more. While the ability to write wasn’t available at first, recordable CDs, followed by re-writeable CDs, eventually overshadowed every advantage of floppies. By the mid-90s, DVDs capable of holding as much as 4GB of data hit the market, turning optical disc technology into an onslaught, which carries on today with Blu-ray discs.

The Modern Era of Data Backup

USB devices, including USB sticks and external hard drives, began seizing the market at the turn of the 21st century. While early models held mere megabytes of data, it’s rare to find USB sticks now that don’t hold multiple gigabytes. External hard drives are breaking multiple terabytes of storage at lower costs than ever. Locally-based storage devices will remain a staple for years to come until the speed of cloud computing can compete. Even now, cloud storage has many advantages, including off-site backups, remote access to data, and heightened security.

Find this sort of information intriguing and want to know more about how to back up your data? Give Centre Technologies a call. We’ll reminisce with you about times gone by and help you look to the future.

Ready for a backup?

Originally published on December 23, 2016

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Centre Technologies is a full-service IT consulting and managed services provider headquartered in Texas, with a focus on mid-sized businesses. As a trusted IT partner for well over a decade, Centre is recognized for its local experience and enterprise-grade cloud and cybersecurity solutions. Centre is committed to helping organizations harness the power of technology to maximize their operational efficiency and exceed their business goals. Learn more about Centre Technologies »

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