As Sherpa Software celebrates 15 years of providing information governance solutions to our customers, what better way to see where we’ve come from than to take a peek at history?  Today, huge amounts of data are being created and stored at record rates, and the cloud has become the major storage medium.  But how did the earliest pioneers of the field make their information portable?

Here is a list of data storage methods throughout the years:

Punch Cards

As any good geek knows, the earliest computers were programed using stiff sheets of paper with commands and other data represented by the presence or absence of holes.  They were originally developed in the 19th century for the control of textile looms. Old time self-playing pianos also utilized a form of punch card technology.   Even today, punch cards are still in use, most notably in some voting machines and testing programs.

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Magnetic TapesMagtape1

Magnetic tapes were first used to store computer data in 1951 on the UNIVAC 1 – the first commercially produced computer in the United States.  This medium is still used today, often for older backup storage systems. Having said that, Sony recently announced a new format storing over 180 TBs.

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Floppy DisksFloppy_disk_2009_G1

Using another version of magnetic media with a protective carrier, floppy disks first became commercially available in 1971.  These eight inch wunderkinds stored a whopping 80 KB of memory. Their 5 ¼ inch cousins advanced to 1.2 MB while the 3 ½ inch version introduced in the 80s typically held 1.44 MB.  They remained the standard portable storage medium for many years.   FYI: 8 inch floppy disks are still in use today, most notably by the U.S. Air Force.

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Compact Diskscds-compact-discs-dvds-jpg

Begun as a medium for sound recordings, compact disk – read only memory (CD-ROMs), is an optical disk medium first introduced for computer storage in 1982. It quickly became a preferred method for data storage due to its expansive 700 MB of portable space.  At the time of its introduction, this volume was greater than storage available in the hard drive of a typical personal computer of the era.


Built with the same dimensions as compact disks, DVDs are another type of optical disk media. DVDs were first introduced in 1995 and became quickly popular for their available storage volume.  They are able to hold significantly more data (typically 4.6 GB) than previous popular portable storage mediums.

USB Drives

Jump drive, flash drive, thumb drive – these are all names for the current favorite of the portable storage mediums – the SanDisk_Cruzer_Micro‘Universal Serial Bus’ interface.  USBs were first available in the US market in 2000 with a whopping 8 MB of space.  Although it could not compare to the common CD or DVDs in widespread use at the time, it favorably competed against the common floppy disks prevalent at the time.  Over the years, the volume of storage available in these devices has increased even further and today it is not uncommon to see sized in the gigabyte and terabyte range.

With the advent of mobile devices, portable storage formats like multi-media cards (MMC), secure digital cards (SSD) and others have also entered the market.  How far we’ve come!  Today a small novelty USB drive in the shape of Legos, Minions or sushi cost just a few dollars yet contain a storage capacity with exponentially more volume than the computer which guided men to the moon.  Who knows what the future holds?