The weight of data

Big data is being hyped by pretty much every marketer at the moment. But the phrase itself has for some time been a bit of a misnomer, because what we understand as ‘big data’ can these days be carried around in a flash drive smaller than pen. As it turns out, this hasn’t always been the case. In its early days, data storage quite literally necessitated a big solution.

Pictures taken in 1956 illustrate just how burdensome it was for IBM to transport the now measly 3.75 megabytes of storage space.

(Image credit: Historical Pics)

The device pictured has been identified as the IBM 350, which according to the IBM Archives website was first introduced in September of 1956.

As explained on the site: “The 350 disk storage unit consisted of the magnetic disk memory unit with its access mechanism, the electronic and pneumatic controls for the access mechanism, and a small air compressor. Assembled with covers, the 350 was 60 inches long, 68 inches high and 29 inches deep. It was configured with 50 magnetic disks containing 50,000 sectors, each of which held 100 alphanumeric characters, for a capacity of 5 million characters.”

More significantly, it weight around 250 kg, which essentially translates into about 67 kg for every megabyte of storage space. And if this ratio were applied to a lowly 250-megabyte memory stick it would weigh a hefty 16,667 kg—a weight not really conducive to the average shirt pocket.  


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