Innovation and the History of Data Storage

Difficult to predict...

Difficult to predict…

The history of technological breakthroughs enabling the storage of data has had a run approaching one hundred years. Throughout this time, ever new technology was considered entirely new and unique, disruptive, and breakthrough. One could argue that people working in the data storage industry, from scientists to manufacturing operators to sales and marketing have become accustomed to only one constant: Whatever is the latest and greatest storage technology will not last longer than a few more years. The art within the science of data storage technology breakthroughs is which “horse” to bet on, since a plethora of new ideas in research and development are continuing.

Here are just a few of the developments in data storage since the 1920’s according to (2014):

  • Invention of the magnetic tape drive in 1928
  • Magnetic drum in 1932
  • Electrostatic cathode ray tubes and delay line memory in the 1940’s
  • Hard disk drive (HDD) in 1956
  • DRAM in 1966
  • Floppy drives in the 1970’s
  • CD, CD ROM, DAT and DDS in the 1980’s
  • Flash memory in the 1990’s
  • HD-DVD, Blue ray, Flash cards and holographic in the 2000’s
  • Cloud (today)

One thing data storage has always had were almost insurmountable challenges in terms of barriers to entry: Huge scientific leaps were required, huge amounts of capital were also needed – a semiconductor fab today will run upwards of US$5 billion, with plenty of issues getting from the drawing board to mass production. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but exciting nevertheless.

Where do we go from here? What comes next after the cloud? Most people don’t understand how to describe the “cloud” or even what it is. Basically the cloud’s tangible properties are server farms, data centers in far-flung places that very few people even knew existed. When you save your tax return or your Capella University assignments to the cloud, you are entrusting the storage and protection of your information to a massive array of networked server hard drives, tape back up, flash and software. The good news is that most of this information is in turn backed up, or mirrored, in another similar facility but at an entirely different geography, perhaps on the other side of the planet. The bad news is that if hackers do manage to get into your tax returns, well your problems have just begun.

According to Chen (2013) “The increasing adoption of cloud services is demanding the deployment of more data centers. Data centers typically house a huge amount of storage and computing resources, in turn dictating better networking technologies to connect the large number of computing and storage nodes. Data center networking (DCN) is an emerging field to study networking challenges in data centers.”

So what to expect over the next several years? While speeds and feeds and capacities continue to grow in flash memory and hard drive products, a lot of investment is going into data warehousing, data processing, data mining, network efficiency, fast internet connections and global capability to send and receive information from any place on the planet.

So is that it then? Not at all! In background are holographic storage and who knows? This 3D storage technique could be the next big thing. And in the world of flash? According to Villa (2010) ““Phase-change memory (PCM) technology is the only one of the proposed alternative technologies that is demonstrating the capability to enter in the broad NVM market and to become main-stream in the next decade.” Phase-change memory, Memristors and similar technologies are expected to replace flash entirely. And DRAM, flash and the controller technology necessary to run them together is now packaged into a single multi-chip which in turn is soldered to the motherboard.

What can keep up? One thing is certain though. Technology companies tend to trade at high stock price-earnings ratios. This is because some of them will break out and rocket to the moon. Most of the others will simply whither away, unable to keep up. And it is this phenomena that accounts for the very high volatility in stock price earnings ratios of the tech stocks traded on the NASDAQ exchange. No one is 100% which horse to bet on.


Bez, R., Camerlenghi, E., Modelli, A., & Visconti, A. (2003). Introduction to flash memory. Proceedings of the IEEE, 91(4), 489-502.

Villa, C., Mills, D., Barkley, G., Giduturi, H., Schippers, S., & Vimercati, D. (2010). ISSCC 2010/SESSION 14/NON-VOLATILE MEMORY/14.8.

Zetta, Inc. (2014). Retrieved from






Chen, M., Jin, H., Wen, Y., & Leung, V. C. (2013). Enabling technologies for future data center networking: a primer. Network, IEEE, 27(4).

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