The ability to store and access data is a vital part of our daily lives, both in the office and at home. Every day, you interact with countless pieces of data stored across a variety of media, from USB drives to DVDs to the Cloud. But where did it all begin, and how did we get to where we are today? Here’s a brief look at data storage across the last several decades.


Punch Cards

You might not think of a sheet of paper that’s been hole punched to be a form of data storage, but it is. In fact, it’s the first official form of data storage on record because these punch cards could be used to program anything from textile looms to player pianos. They were first invented in 1725, and were improved in the 1940s so that the data could be read.


The Colossus

The Colossus was the first computer, and it got its name from its sheer enormous size. This behemoth took up several rooms and was used to decipher secret codes created by the Nazis during World War II. The codes were recorded on what is called paper tape, which is similar to the punch cards mentioned above. In fact, paper tape is still used today for voting ballots and multiple-choice tests.


Magnetic Tape

Paper tape gave way to magnetic tape, which made creating, storing, and accessing data much easier and faster to do. One reel of magnetic tape could hold as much data as 1,920 reels of paper tape. Magnetic tape was also the predecessor to cassette tapes.


Hard Drives

Next came the hard drive. Invented by IBM in 1956, the first hard drive took up the majority of a room and used rapidly rotating disks to store data. In addition to being able to store more than 20 times the amount of data as a magnetic tape reel, the first hard drive was also unique in that it enabled the user to access the stored data in any order, rather than just the order that it was stored in, as before.


Floppy Disks

Internal hard drive storage eventually led to the first means of external data storage—the floppy disk. First invented in 1971, the original floppy disks were thin, bare disks. However, these got dirty easily, so they were quickly put inside of a slim plastic envelope, giving us the floppy disks that many of us are familiar with. They weren’t able to hold as much data as hard drives at the time (about one-third of the data), but the ability to transport that much data easily was revolutionary. In the 1980s, computers were becoming available to companies, which meant businesses could use floppy disks to store their data or documents and transport them easily.



Floppy disks reigned supreme for a little over a decade. Then the CD-ROM came onto the scene. With its ability to store 486 times the amount of data, they quickly became the preferred means of external data storage. And they became irreplaceable once Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA became the first CD manufactured for release in the United States. Or at least, we believed them to be irreplaceable at the time…



In 1996, Twister became the first movie to ever be released on DVD. This revolutionary form of data storage enabled people to store all manner of media on an external source, from files, to sound recordings, to videos. Though they have the same physical dimensions as a CD, DVDs can store almost 7 times the amount of data.


USB Drives

As is typical with technology, the heyday of DVD data storage was short lived. Though they’re still fairly popular for purchasing movies today, it’s unlikely you’ll see anyone “burning” a DVD on their computer anymore. That’s all thanks to the USB drive. These first hit the scene in 2000. Weighing barely more than an ounce, this lightweight is actually a heavyweight of data storage, with the ability to store 140 times the amount of data as a single DVD. They made it quick and easy to store data, carry it with you, and access it from another computer without any difficulty. Such memory capacity in such a little device started becoming the new norm.

The one problem with these little devices is that their portability and small size made it easy to lose them. In fact, USB drives have been responsible for the loss of everything from hospital patient records to police witness reports to classified documents from nuclear power plants!


The Cloud

At the close of the history of data storage, we come to today’s reigning data-storage champion—the Cloud. The original concept for cloud storage was introduced in 1961, but it didn’t become a feasible option until 2006 when Amazon began to offer Amazon Web Services (AWS). Since then, use of the Cloud has skyrocketed (pun intended) and is the preferred means of data storage for individuals and worldwide corporations alike.

Today, it is estimated that more than 1 Exabyte of data is contained in the Cloud. Never heard of an Exabyte before? That’s because you won’t ever find that much data storage on another device—it’s the equivalent of over 1 BILLION gigabytes, or the amount of data that could be stored on 8,192,000 USB drives. It’s no wonder the Cloud stands supreme.

eFileCabinet Gets The Best Out Of The Cloud

Like any other form of technology, data storage is always changing. You should strive to keep your business on top of the latest data storage solutions to ensure that your information is always safe, secure, and accessible when you need it.

You don’t have to stress about knowing everything about the history of data storage—eFileCabinet keeps up with current technology so that you can focus on doing your own job. Our document management software utilizes the Cloud without compromising security and privacy. The Cloud with eFileCabinet makes it easier to save money, manage documents, work from anywhere, and save time and space. 

See how you can update your office or business to a paperless document management system with eFileCabinet! Learn more here.