Evolution of storage: A nostalgic glimpse

By Emily Meacham | | Software-defined Storage

When I was a little girl, my father sold “a lot of computers” to the power company (then Duke Power, now Duke Energy) in Charlotte, N.C.  For many years afterward, as he continued to service the account, my sister and I would occasionally accompany him to the office, where he would let us make punch cards of our names, spin ourselves around until we were dizzy in the swivel chairs, and play “hide and seek” in the huge computer lab, which housed rows and rows of computer tape drives.

Figure 1: Bill Hardin (CE), Sam Joyce (SE), Rod Moak (Salesman), Arlin Lewis, Jack Fallon
(IBM installation at Duke Power, circa 1959)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my father had sold a “whole lot of computers” — enough to make him President of IBM’s Hundred Percent Club for his region and send him and my mother to a worldwide gathering of the top IBM salespeople in Brussels, Belgium.

At the keynote dinner in Brussels, my mother, a North Carolina cotton farmer’s daughter, was seated next to Thomas J. Watson, Jr., President of IBM at the time. When Watson asked my mother where she was from, my father winced as she replied, “Monroe,” thinking the cosmopolitan Watson would never have heard of the small Carolina town and worried he would think she was a “hayseed from the sticks.” However, in a fortuitous coincidence, Watson had been stationed during World War II at Camp Sutton, a training site for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was located just outside of Monroe. Apparently, he had fond memories of the place and immediately struck up a very pleasant and “homey” conversation with my mother.

Watson, the son and namesake of IBM’s original founder, presided over an incredible period of growth in IBM’s history. Through the late 1950s and up into the 1980s, IBM almost came to monopolize the computer storage market. I even remember being worried about how IBM’s eventual antitrust investigation might affect my father and our family, as it dragged out over many years. But IBM survived the investigation, and many years later, my sister joined Big Blue as a second-generation IBMer.

I started out in a different tech industry, but inevitably I also ended up working in the computer storage world.  I guess it is in our blood!

But boy have things changed since my father’s time.  And what is one of the main things people talk about most when they mention the “evolution” of technology and computers?!   Storage — the paradox of how much more our storage devices can hold (and how much smaller they are than a huge Halon-protected computer lab), contrasted with the vast amounts of storage that all companies need to maintain and constantly back up.

The idea of a monopoly in computer storage today is actually almost humorous.  The choices for computer storage have become so prolific — and while choices are better than monopolies, this evolution comes with its own set of problems.

How do you make a decision about how to store and backup your company’s data — when the possibilities are overwhelming and constantly changing?  And when you do make an investment, what if it does not scale to meet your increased demand? Or what if your hardware fails, and it is completely tied to your software — and you will be down for days, weeks, or months?

What if you are stuck with a … dinosaur?!

Do not worry, we will explore the technical evolution of storage solutions in the second part of this blog. If you are in the mood to see a dinosaur, come see Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom with Hedvig on June 22. Just don’t use one for your computer storage!