Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How much data at what cost?

According to the Timline: 50 Years of Hard Drives, the first hard drive shipped from IBM in 1956. That first hard drive held 5 MB of data at a cost of $10,000 a megabyte. See also The Hard Drive Turns 50 from PC World. That original hard drive, known as the Random Access Method of Accounting and Control, or RAMAC is described as follows:
The integrated RAMAC 305 system was about two refrigerators in width and not quite as tall, and it literally weighed a ton. Its hard drive, the RAMAC 350, had 50 24-inch platters in a stack inside the unit, in an assembly that spun at 1200 revolutions per minute. The unit used two magnetic recording heads. The RAMAC 350 could hold 5MB--about the storage that today is needed for one 5-minute MP3 encoded at 128 kilobits per second.
Even that first hard drive had several features in common with today's high capacity drives. Again quoting from The Hard Drive Turns 50:
Although the RAMAC shares only some characteristics with today's hard drives, they are important ones, says Hoagland. "The characteristics of all disk drives that still use ideas initiated on the RAMAC include: closely spaced disks or platters with magnetic film surfaces; positioning of read/write heads to service a large number of tracks; and and the use of head assemblies that create a small but finite separation between head and disk to avoid wear or damage to either one."
Switching into high gear, a recent article from Cisco Systems announced the Cisco CRS-3 Carrier Routing System.  This new system for transmitting data across the Internet claims speeds up to "322 Terabits per second, which enables the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress to be downloaded in just over one second; every man, woman and child in China to make a video call, simultaneously; and every motion picture ever created to be streamed in less than four minutes." Pricing for the new system starts at $90,000.

With all of this fantastic speed, what about the venerable hard drive? Where are we today in the way of cost and storage capacity? This is a relatively difficult question to answer. The reason is that new drives are introduced regularly with larger capacities and lower prices. Only recently, 1 TB (1000 GB) drives were being introduced. Now (July, 2011), within the past six months, 4 TB drives are now common. The price for a 4 TB drive has dropped to just over $200. You will recall that that the first hard drive cost about $10,000 per megabyte, at $250 for 4 TBs the cost per megabyte is about $250 divided by 4,000,000 or .0000625 cents per megabyte!

However, despite all this advancement in storage, I still talk to genealogists regularly who do not have any backup storage method at all. That is zero bytes of external storage. In fact in the past couple of weeks, I have been working on retrieving data from floppy disks that date back to the 1980s and hold from about 1 MB to 2.88 MB of data. (There were some higher density Laser Servo disks that held up to 200 MB of data but I have never seen a drive mechanism for them). See Wikipedia:Floppy Disk.

Why, with the amazing advances in technology do we have a significant number of genealogists that still rely on floppy disks? One thing I find regularly is that they just have no idea of the cost of either new computers or new hard disk drives. They have absolutely no interest in hardware or software and have never bothered to upgrade their computer systems. In fact, a very high percentage of the genealogists I work with and help almost every day, still compress their genealogy data files! They do this because several of the commonly used and popular programs still have "backup" options to compress the files.

So how much data storage space does a large genealogy file take? I have a file with over 18,000 names and a lot of sources etc. My largest file is about 33 MB is size. That is megabytes not gigabytes. Remember, a 4 TB drive is 4,000,000 megabytes. My file would take up less than 1/1000 of a percent of the space on the drive. I could have 100,000 files of that size on one hard drive and still have room left over.

So if the large drives are inexpensive, how cheap is an adequate storage device for my largest file? I would need about 33 MBs. Well, I can't buy a drive that small. A common 8 GB (not megabyte) flash drive costs about $7.00. That is 8,000 MBs. 2 GB flash drives are under $5.00 which is sort of the minimal price anything can be packaged and sold.

So why don't the genealogists spend $5 and back up their genealogy files? Simple. They don't have computers with USB ports. Maybe next time I'll do a little comparison shopping for computers.

(Note: If any of you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I am number challenged. So, if you find my math is wrong, just drop me a comment and make the correction).

1 comment:

  1. Nor do they know the unreliability of entrusting your data to floppy disk or for that matter, CDs or DVDs.

    Wayback when, we didn't trust hard drives and backed up data onto floppies. Hard drives are much more reliable now and another hard drive as backup is also very reasonable either as an external or internal drive.

    I wonder what the longevity/reliability of the flashdrives are compared to hard drives?

    Also, I've seen the suggestion that for each of your flashdrives put on a ET sort of file, that is, a file that would point the honest person to the flashdrive's owner if lost.

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