Computer History Museum to highlight storage, from RAMAC to microdrives

Today's $60 1TB drive would have cost $1 trillion in the '50s

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In 2006, Seagate also announced a 1-in. hard drive that held 12GB.

Enter perpendicular technology

More recent leaps in hard drive capacity evolved from the adoption of perpendicular recording methods, which stood the magnetic bits of data upright on a drive platter as opposed to longitudinal recording, which laid them down flat on the platter surface. By standing them up, more data could be crowded into the same space, increasing the areal density of hard drives.

As with all technology, evolution led not only to innovation, but to obsolescence. Remember the floppy disk? Nowadays, hard drives seem to be giving way to solid-state storage, or nonvolatile memory, which is quickly overtaking the market.

Even Hoagland, who has an affinity for hard drives, admits that the hard disk drive is nearing the end of its life for personal use. "The iPad is a good example. It offers [a solid-state drive with a storage capacity] that was adequate 10 years ago for a laptop. Now it's quite adequate because people can do a heck of a lot with that."

"If you want to store every movie ever made in your home, you may buy a hard drive. But typically, if you can get it off the cloud when you want to see it, why would you want it on your disk drive?" Hoagland said. "My next computer won't have a disk drive."

Whither the hard disk?

That doesn't mean disk drives are going away anytime soon. Corporations will continue to expand disk drive farms for years to come just to keep up with the avalanche of data being created every day.

"Every time people create data and put it on the Internet, that means there's a tremendous increase in ... disk farms," Hoagland said. "You can't beat the capacity you can get on a magnetic disk drive, cost wise or volume wise. They're going to be buying disk drives hand over fist indefinitely, because they'll be needed more and more as people find they like using flash memory, but they can't afford to buy a terabyte of flash memory."

Of course, in 50 years, a terabyte of flash memory won't likely be so pricey, if past is prologue.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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