Posted on May 4, 2020.

It’s no secret that technology has come a long way in a short amount of time. Computers, phones, internet — in just a few decades, we’ve seen substantial innovation and changes to our everyday life and work. Something else that has also evolved along the way? Data storage.

Because of these incredible advances in just a matter of years, we’re diving into the evolution of enterprise data storage to see where we were then, where we are now and where we’ll be in the future.

Pre-Digital Early Storage Solutions

Paper documents, punch cards, and filing cabinets — it’s not hard to remember these forms of storage from the 19th century because they still widely exist. Today however, it’s not uncommon to walk through office spaces or doctors’ offices without seeing troves of files stored away in tall, heavy, metal drawers. 

These solutions are not only costly, but they have a nonexistent Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO). In other words, if a document was ever lost or destroyed, the chances of recovering that data were very low to impossible. As an enterprise, this presented a very high cost, both in lost information and in resource investment.

The “Iron Age”: 1950s-1990s

From the 1950s to the 1990s, also known as the “Iron Age,” digital storage made significant advances. In 1956, the world was introduced to the first-ever hard drive: the IBM 305 RAMAC. But this hard drive wasn’t like the small, portable ones we know today. Instead, it was the size of a couple of refrigerators, with capacities at around 4 MB. It was also the first example of direct-attached storage (DAS), which means exactly how it sounds — the digital storage is attached to the computer accessing it. The first hard drive also meant the first backup solution, which came in the form of magnetic tape. 

Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, the floppy drive and the floppy disk were introduced. The floppy drive made its debut in 1976 with a storage capacity of 110 KB. A few years later, in 1982, the 3.5-inch floppy disk followed with the capability to store 1.44 MB. Eventually, it would be able to store a whopping 250 MB in the late 1990s. With these new digital storage solutions, RPO decreased to a one-day minimum, while RTO decreased from weeks to days. 

The “Networked Era”: Late 1990s-2000s

In the years leading up to the Millenium, Storage Area Network (SAN) and Network-Attached Storage Arrays (NAS) emerged in the digital storage world. These solutions decreased RPO from weeks to days, while RTO decreased from days to just hours. 

Despite these advances, centralized computers and information storage devices in data centers became more costly and unprotected. Because files continued to grow in size and volume, companies were forced to refresh their hardware every few years. Thankfully, there were already more effective and innovative solutions in the works, which would become much more secure and cost-effective for enterprises.

The Rise of the Cloud: 2010-Present

Since 2010, cloud-based storage has become the new norm for digital storage — one that’s more secure and doesn’t require new hardware if a business’ needs change. Even though the idea of a global connection was first introduced in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s it became the go-to solution for virtually everyone — from giant tech companies to individuals with smartphones. What’s more, RPO now takes a matter of minutes with cloud technology, and RTO is nearly instant. Tech giants have also started selling cloud storage services, like Amazon’s Elastic Block Storage (EBS), which provides a scalable, high-performance system to even the lowest-budget user. 

Cloud storage is not only capable of managing data more securely, but it’s an increasingly necessary investment for many organizations. For a typical Fortune 1000 company, just a 10% increase in data accessibility could result in a more than $65 million additional net income. Today, cloud storage can be configured as private, public, or hybrid

Hybrid and multi-cloud options are becoming more popular as access and technology improve. Combining the best features of private and public clouds, these options provide more flexibility and more capacity. In addition to being cost-effective, hybrid and multi-cloud options allow companies to use public clouds for running applications with lots of volume — like email — but use private clouds for storing more sensitive data and data recovery. These cloud storage options may also offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud platforms and a mix of public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) like Amazon Web Services, Oracle or IBM Cloud.

More than Just Data Storage

As cloud-based storage continues to grow and expand, companies have their sights set on one major component: Big Data. Because data storage now encompasses several facets, from social media and cell phones to online transactions and website usage, companies are looking for ways to analyze that data to gain more insight into their business and audiences. In 2019, 45% of companies ran at least some big data workloads in the cloud, and 40% said they need to manage unstructured data regularly. As the need to store and retrieve massive amounts of data becomes crucial for companies, it will have a significant impact on the future of data storage. In fact, it already has.

The Future of Enterprise Data

So, what does the future hold for data storage? We’re already starting to see an application-centric focus on the customer, such as private clouds with better efficiency and public clouds with more hybrid features. By 2021, 94% of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud data centers. And by 2025, the global data sphere will grow to 163ZB.

Because of the substantial growth in data storage, the future will also see persistent memory (PMEM), which was first announced in 2015 and has since been the most anticipated product from Intel’s 3D Xpoint family. PMEM has the potential to reduce latencies and improve speeds at levels not yet seen from other data storage solutions. In addition to its increased performance, creators believe it will also require fewer energy resources, making it a more environmentally friendly storage solution.

Finding the Right Data Storage Solution for Your Enterprise

As the future of cloud data storage continues to evolve, ensure the future of your data storage is secure with the right solution. If you’re not sure what that is, we’ll work with you to determine the best choice for you and your business. Explore all of our data solutions or contact us to get started today.