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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
A breakthrough storage invention was the magnetic drum, forerunner of the disk. This example from the mid-'50s IBM 650 had 10,000 characters of storage and acted as the main memory of the computer. The drum was 16 inches long, had 40 tracks and span at 12,500 revolutions per minute.
To ensure uniform, vibration-free rotation, the drums tended to be massive and were driven by powerful motors. An entire tradition of legend and myth has grown up around them, mostly centring on bearing seizures and other catastrophic breakdowns that led to the drums smashing through walls or the complete units walking out of the machine room in clouds of smoke and sparks.
The mainstay of modern computing, the hard disk was invented in 1956 by IBM and hasn't stopped spinning since.
The picture shows six form factors of hard disk, from 8-inch down to 1-inch, and represents the history of the device from the late 1970s through to today. The 8-inch drives had capacities between 5MB and 30MB; the most capacious single 3.5-inch unit today has 3TB.
Although most people know of Moore's Law — the number of devices in an area of silicon will double every two years — the capacity of hard disks has been outpacing that rate of improvement. One of the biggest advances was the discovery of the giant magnetoresistive effect, a piece of quantum physics that went from discovery in 1988 to market in 1998 — and earned its discoverers the Nobel Prize in 2007.
Credit: Paul R Potts/Wiki Commons