September 09, 2009, 5:45 AM — This week 53 years ago was a big moment in computing history: it was when the first hard drive was delivered. True, it weighed a ton and was a mainframe hard drive (and a rather big one, as you can see from the photo), but it contained all of five megabytes. It was part of a computer called the IBM RAMAC 305 that leased for about $3000 a month back then. We certainly have come a long way, baby. As my stepson reminded me, that is enough room to store a single digital song. PC World has a great timeline history of hard drives here.
The first PC hard drives were also 5 MB and it would take IBM until March 1983 before they were standard on their XT PCs. I remember getting one of the first models when I worked at a government information center in Washington DC and we had a steady stream of potential users that were amazed that we could offer a PC that didn't need a floppy disk to read and write data. We wondered how we would fill it all up – at the time, to give you some perspective, most software programs took far less than a couple hundred kilobytes or so of space.
Yes, the hard drive industry has changed a lot over the 50-plus years, too. Just to give you another perspective, currently four vendors account for the vast majority of hard drives made and sold around the world: Hitachi, Seagate, Samsung and Western Digital. This is down from more than 70 vendors during the height of the PC era in the mid-1980s.
How about the first 1 GB hard drive? IBM sold one for $40,000 back in 1980 for its mainframes. The first PC models were sold about ten years later for about $1,000. I remember buying one of them for my PCs and thinking that I could never fill this baby up. At that time, most software programs were about 50 MB or so. Now it is hard to find a PC that has a hard drive smaller than several hundred gigabytes, and terabyte drives are quite affordable.Now I carry around a few gigabytes on a small USB flash drive that is about the size of a fingernail and costs less than $50. And you can buy more capacity, in the hundreds of gigabytes now as well that aren't much bigger. But storage needs continue to increase: I can create a digital video that takes up gigabytes of storage, and anytime I put together a new virtual machine that also can span several gigabytes.
Last week, one of my 1 TB servers went south on me. Luckily I had backups. But as the size of the drive increases, the risk of losing a lot of data very quickly increases too.