Paving The Way

One of the most notable advances in technology is seen by everybody around the world every day, yet given it can be sourced so cheap and easily, one rarely stops to think about the machines that paved the way.  The humble hard drive had a not-so-humble beginning, it was a team of IBMer’s who coined the idea, moving from a very manual process of producing and storing punch cards, to mammoth machines that occupied entire floors of office buildings to simply store a few Megabytes of data. In the 1950’s, the ability to keep a few million bytes of data in one space was considered a spectacular feat, of course when we fast forward to today many times that can be held in the palm of your hand.

The IBM 350 was certainly a mammoth storage device, its drive head at 1 foot in length, 2 foot wide disk platters that spun at over 1000rpm. They had to run for six out of seven days per week! That one offline day was used for scheduled maintenance to wash the platters with an acetone solution which kept them performing in peak condition.

This is a stark difference to what we expect from our hard drives of today, our precious being available every day of every week, requiring no maintenance, and upon failure, is discarded like the plastic box it came in.

Certainly we owe a lot to the lessons learned and developments forged during the golden years of the hard drive, by the 70’s they were able to fit in a suitcase, which meant a great deal for other emerging technologies at the time, technologies that helped humans race to the limits of space.  There was little thought paid to the consumer advantages of having storage available to every home, these were business machines, meant to perform business functions for banks, insurance companies and large retail outlets.  During a recent visit from retired Computer Merchants employee and ex-IBM engineer Howard Foley, we spoke to what we knew about the technologies we worked with, there were as many similarities as differences, but one thing was unwavering, people have an insatiable appetite for more and more storage, thus keeping alive the evolution of the hard drive.


From right to left: Howard holding parts from the IBM 350 DASD from 1960’s and Chris holding a modern 300GB 15,000rpm IBM Hard Drive.

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