Data center

Photo by A data center similar to the one mentioned in the article that contained 10TB in 2000.

I can remember when I was just starting college, I bought my first Intel-based computer and was fascinated by the fact that it had a 40 megabyte hard-drive. The only computer I had used before was a Commodore 64 and it took a five and a half inch floppy disk which held 128 kilobytes of data. I could fit several documents and pictures on this floppy and I can remember thinking that I would never fill up the storage space on that new computer.

Let’s face it, a kilobyte is 1024 bytes of data, a megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, so that hard-drive would hold the equivalent of 320 floppy disks. At the time I owned a total of about twenty. I had all my papers from junior high and high school, electronic drawings I had made, and computer games I had written.

This was back in the days of PC magazines; people shared open-source software by having the source code printed in these magazines, and you typed the code from the magazine into the computer. There was no internet and no easy way to share files with a lot of people. If you had a file someone else wanted, you had to read the file from your floppy disk and save a copy to their floppy disk, which meant you had to, at some point, be in the same room at the same computer.

Let’s jump forward two years, and you see the beginnings of the Internet, which were called bulletin board systems (BBS). Individuals like myself set up a computer in their home connected to a phone line with a modem. This computer would answer calls and display a list of files available on these BBS systems, as well as a list of additional BBS system phone numbers. The file transfer speeds were, at a maximum, 56 kilobytes a second, which meant it took two seconds to transfer a 128 kilobyte floppy disk image, not counting the three to five minutes it took to set up the connection.

Between my freshman year of college and the time I graduated, needless to say, I filled up that 40MB hard-drive and had to upgrade my computer. The new hard-drive was 10 gigabyte (a gigabyte is 1024 megabytes) and once again I thought I would never fill up that drive. It held 256 of my 40MB drives. To my surprise it took less than a year to have the drive full and need another.

My life is full of a continuous growth of data. I currently have a full five terabyte drive. A terabyte is 1024 gigabytes, and if I roll back to when I first started, I now have the equivalent of 42 million 128-kilobyte floppy disks sitting in a small box. The whole world has basically seen the same exponential growth in the amount of data they keep stored on computer hardware.

In 1998 I installed a storage network while working as a Department of Defense contractor that was designed to hold 10 TB of data. The storage network occupied a room the size of a one bedroom apartment. We used the system for three years before filling it up and needing an upgrade. By the time we were ready to upgrade, we could fit the data in a single server. The main reason I mention this is that we can now buy a microSD card that holds 10 TB of data. If you don’t know what a microSD card is, it is a little chip about the size of your thumbnail that is usually plugged into a cell phone for adding more storage space. In 1998 the 10TB was $10 million and today the 10TB microUSB is $5000.

The lesson that I have learned is that if you give people unlimited space to store data, they will fill that space and most of it will be useless, like cat videos on YouTube.

Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to or through his website at

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