History of storage: Cuneiform tablets to flash

History of storage: Cuneiform tablets to flash

Summary: Come with ZDNet UK on a brisk stroll through the history of storage: our culture's push to give our discoveries, memories and knowledge lives and power of their own

TOPICS: Storage

 |  Image 5 of 9

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Punched card

    Punched card
    An icon of early computing, the punched card was very low density but robust — and could be altered and read by unaided, skilled humans at a pinch.

    Ultimately deriving from automated weaving machines of the mid-18th century, IBM was the most high profile user of the technology. The form it used was developed by Herman Hollerith — hence the alternate names IBM or Hollerith cards — for the 1890 US Census; his Tabulating Machine Company subsequently became IBM.

    The most common size of card could store around 160 characters, although many permutations were used.

  • Paper tape

    Paper tape
    Alongside the punched card, paper tape remains fixed in the public mind as symbolic of mid-20th century computing. Developed as storage for teletypes — huge electromechanical devices that were a cross between a typewriter and a telegraph — paper tape came in variable length and could thus store variable amounts of data.

    Like punched cards, the holes in the tape triggered optical sensors which turned the patterns in the paper or plastic back into electrical symbols, 5 bits at a time.

    One of the most famous uses of paper tape was in Colossus, the reprogrammable electronic computer used by Bletchley Park to crack high-level German codes in the second world war. By replacing the usual mechanical sprocket synchronisation with an optical method, the machine could ingest data from paper tape at a highly respectable 5,000 characters per second. Although the electronics was capable of more, at higher speeds the paper disintegrated.

    Paper tape's last hurrah was among radio amateurs, who used it to control radioteletypes until the all-conquering microprocessor saw them off in the mid-1980s.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Magnetic tape

    Magnetic tape
    As electronics improved, it became possible to record high densities of data on magnetic tape orginally designed to store analogue audio signals.

    This is the oldest data storage technology still in regular use in enterprise IT, as it has used subsequent developments in material science and component construction to remain an economical way to semi-permanently store large amounts of data.

    Its use for regular storage tailed off in the 1980s as floppy disks became cheap and capacious enough to replace cassette storage. This particular unit is from a 1960 Eliot 803B in Bletchley Park, and is a very early example of a tape drive. The tape is made from coated 35mm film stock.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

Topic: Storage

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Don't forget Magnetic Bubble memory invented by Bell Labs in the late sixties. It was a form of non-volatile memory. At one time, it was going to become the storage unit in every computer but falling hard drive prices destroyed its commercial potential.
  • Also the chinese and anyone with non Latin /greek characters could not adopt the press, i.e. chinese, arabic, japanese, in fact only the europeans and russians were the major civilisations to use printed books until the 19th century, prior to which the renaissance happened and enlightenment.
  • This is quite wrong in all respects.

    The history of printing is complex and China and other parts of Asia were the first to print on paper and even developed movable type.

    See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing

    Also the Russians are actually Europeans... Since Europe is defined as that part of Eurasia to the West of the Ural mountains. That area (West of the Ural Mountains) in the far east of Europe is where ethnic Russians first emerged and where most of them still live to this day, it is called Russia. If you talk about the modern Russian federation or the old Russian Empire or Soviet Russia then you have to include Siberia and parts of Central Asia