A Trip Down Memory Lane: Of Hard Disks and File Size

Computer history - a blast from the pastComputers have gone from being giant machines that required their own climate-controlled rooms to being so small that they fit in our pockets or can be worn on our wrists. And conversely, the size of our files seems to have done the opposite. There are single files that are comprised of hundreds of times more data than those first hard disks were even capable of storing.

The first computer hard disk drive, introduced in 1956, stored an amazing 5 MB. It literally weighed a ton (2146 lbs to be exact). This hard disk drive, just a just a single component of the IBM RAMAC Computer system, could be leased for $3000 a month. By today’s standards 5 MB seems like nothing. But back then? It. Was. Huge. The files that these drives held were just a few bytes or kilobytes each at the most. So 5 MB was more than enough storage space. This computer revolutionized real-time accounting. Yet, if you had told anyone in 1956 that one day we’d all have our own computers that we carried everywhere with us, you’d probably find yourself on the receiving end of a blank stare. Why would anyone need a personal computer?

Ah, the personal computer. Those came onto the scene in 1977, some of the first being the Commodore PET, Apple II and the Tandy TRS-80. They didn’t even have hard disk drives, they relied on audio cassettes for loading programs and storing data. This is probably because even into the 1980’s hard disk drives were still in the “bigger is better” category – a one gigabyte (commercial) hard disk drive in 1980 was the size of a refrigerator.

Methods of file storage got smaller, but their capacity grewOf course early personal computers were generally marketed mostly for personal financial management. Consumers needed to share information with others and collaborate, but getting files from one computer to another was a tricky business. Enter the floppy disk. The 8″ and 5 1/4″ floppy disks of the 70’s and 80’s gave way to the smaller 3 1/2″ floppy, each generation giving way to a smaller disk that could store more data. This made the data easily portable. That 8″ floppy could hold 80 KB and by the time we made it to the 3 1/2″ floppy, it stored 1.44 MB. Let’s compare that to today’s technology – a variety of tiny USB sticks, affordable to the average consumer up to about 64 GB of data, 1,600 times more than a normal hard disk drive in 1990 (40 MB), and 12,800 times more than the first consumer hard disk drive in 1980. (And technically, I saw one online at the time of this post that holds a full terabyte, but it costs a whopping $772.) To say we’ve come a long way is an understatement.

But what if you didn’t have to physically move data around? What if you could create a network of computers that could pass information back and forth? You see where this is going, right? The birth of the Internet! With its long and rich history that could be an entirely new blog post, but suffice it to say the Internet had easily made its way into the mainstream and into businesses and homes by the mid-90’s. Being able to send files with email was embraced, but file sizes soon outgrew email bandwidth. There were other alternatives, like FTP, but those required a higher degree of technical ability and contained some security vulnerabilities. (The prevalence of computer viruses grew right alongside personal computers and the Internet.) So email and FTP were simply not a safe way to send private data.

SendThisFile came to the market in 2003, offering customers a way to send large files that were too big for email. With its secure encryption, it became a great alternative to both email and to FTP. In the early years, the average file size that our customers transferred was just under 20 MB. Today the customer average is just over 59 MB – a growth of 228%. With the growth in popularity of audio and video files, this spike in our customer’s file sizes is not surprising. Technology has made it easier for us to create videos, at practically no cost, and the need to move them around is inevitable.

If you have file transfer needs that are growing at the speed of technology, SendThisFile can help. Contact one of our sales specialists today to learn about our premium accounts or, just start a free account.


Image credit.