Once upon a time, long ago, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing data tapes and floppy discs. They were in offices, in homes, in pockets and in cars. These were the way to store data on portable, exchangeable mediums so that they could be saved for backup or be shared among individuals without use of the internet.
Then came the CD, which promptly banished them into obsolescence, now nothing more than curiosities in museums and dated movies or television shows. So too did the CD give way to the DVD and in time, the SD card. In time, aside from backup purposes, not even SD cards were really very necessary, as exchange of data from one device to the other over the airwaves became safe, secure and dependable.
Technology is like a glimmer in the dark, one moment shining bright, the next drown out by a brighter light. Gone but never forgotten, mankind leaves a trail of abandoned artifacts, testament to his struggle to build better technology with higher capacity and practicality.
What then of our friend the hard drive? Hard drive technology dates as far back as the late 1950s, as colossal things storing very little, first called “magnetic drum” and later “magnetic disc”. From the immense mainframes and archival systems to a more miniature size in homes with the PC revolution, hard drives have been with us for a long time, for better or worse.
Nobody who uses computers is unfamiliar with the frequent defragmentations, wipes, formats and occasional failures so characteristic of our magnetic friends. Every so many years, bigger, faster hard drives come out, and we all rush to purchase them, to get that much more available space to store that which we hold precious and golden. But perhaps this longtime friend may too be left behind soon enough.
Contrary to predictions in the past, optical media, solid state devices and SD cards have not managed to dethrone the vast capacity and affordability of the hard drive. So, what will?
SaaS, or software as a service, alongside cloud computing and storage may be the nails in the coffin of the hard drive which so many technologies have combatted and lost over the years. With the ability to deliver software live through clients and browsers, there is no longer a need for local storage space big enough to justify hard drives. No longer will we need to install software, juggle system registry and store vast support files to make them run.
With cloud storage, we no longer need to store our personal files locally, where they can be lost to failures or accidental deletions. Now they are safely tucked away in the impenetrable digital vaults of things like Google Drive, Cloud9 and Microsoft SkyDrive. As internet connections become heftier, more permanent and more widely available to facilitate it, soon, what need will we have for our old friend, the hard drive?
In 30 years, will our children look with amazement through display glass at dusty old relics, alongside tapes, floppies and optical media, and wonder at how we managed to use such bulky things? Will they wonder how a computing world without super-clouds and lighting-speed stream-based SaaS software was even possible? Will they laugh as we do at our grandparents’ adding machines and filing cabinets?
It’s easy to be sad, even wistful when we see the gradual fade into obscurity which has unknowingly crept up on the hard drive when we weren’t even looking. SaaS and cloud computing are the future, and sadly, the hard drive is very much part of the past.
Fare thee well, platter magnetic memory storage. We shall miss you. For a while at least.