Computer data storage is constantly growing and has done so to almost ludicrous amounts. For example, in the time since the release of the original IBM hard drive in 1956, hard disk drive capacity has increased 1 million times, from 5 megabytes to 4 Terabytes. Even more recently, this has been happening on a smaller scale with micro SD cards, which grew in storage space from 128 megabytes in 2005 to 128 gigabytes in 2014. Capacities of all storage devices grow at the rate of 175 percent annually. This growth can be attributed to the development of storage technology that can fit more data into a smaller amount of physical space, and it is partially driven by the need to accommodate the currently massive and continuously growing amount of data.
The main characteristics of computer storage are the cost per bit, the speed with which it can be delivered to the processor, and the length of time it must remain available. The latter two of these is dependent on the semiconductor circuit, which, in early hard drives, took up a considerable amount of space. During this time, Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, came up with an idea that became known as Moore’s Law. This derived from the concept of scaling, which theorized that as electronic circuits were made smaller, their components would get faster, require less power, and become cheaper to use. Moore’s Law stated that the number of transistors that could be etched into a chip would double annually in the decade after 1965, something that actually became true for the five decades that succeeded that year. Today, billions of transistors can be packed into a space the size of a fingernail and only cost a tiny fraction of a cent.
The development in transistors attributed to Moore’s Law was complemented by a significant reduction in cost per bit, which, since 1956, has dropped from $10,000,000 to less than $0.05 per gigabyte. This is primarily the result of an increase in areal density, or the number of bits that can be squeezed onto a given physical area of a magnetic storage medium. Research and development efforts have increased areal density from 2000 bits per square inch to 1,000,000,000 bits per square inch.
This increased potential for storage is a necessity due to the currently massive amount of data. As of 2014, Google has indexed 200 Terabytes of data, which is estimated to account for only 0.004 percent of the total Internet. Many different files have grown in average size over time for images and videos, due to the advancement in technology that enhanced their quality. Today businesses make use of large amounts of data to streamline operations, reduce fraud, and predict customer behavior.
The amount of data growth and related storage potential is not due to plateau in the near future. Current developments that could increase the areal density of hard drives even further are being considered by manufacturing companies, and include heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and helium drives.