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Disks are 50 years old today

September 16, 2006

Fifty years ago today, IBM introduced RAMAC (random access accounting & control), the first in a long line of crappy storage architectures. 

Before the advent of personal computers, us data processing professionals called then DASD (direct access storage devices), the refrigerator-sized 3380 disks has 1.2 gig of storage at the most reasonable cost of only $250,000.

Most of my career in the 1980's was directly-related to fighting with these giant rotating platters of magnetic-coated media.  In order to reduce the latency of access, we carefully placed high-use datafile near the middle absolute track of the device, and data placement was always a pain because of the huge size of the disks and the high expense.  See Oracle Disk I/O Tuning:

So, with the technology constantly re-vamping, where have we come in the past half-century of disks?  I think that it has gotten worse, not better.  Sure, disks are incredibly cheap compared to their ancestors, but they still have shortcomings, and disks are getting worse, not better:

The Plague of Large Oracle Disks

Think, about it, how many of us use a 50 year-old technology?  It's been almost 100 years since George Eastman popularized silver-coated film, and it's still with us (ironically, being driven-down by cheap disks).

The technology is supposed to be changing, right? 

While IT pundits claim that it is suicide to fall behind in the technology, many ancient technologies persist, and it's not just disks. In databases, IMS still has a significant market share after 40 years, DB2 still stores most of the world's data and Oracle will soon celebrate their 20th birthday.  The USAF is still using their 50 year-old B52 bombers . . .

What will replace disk?

The disk vendors say that disk is not dead, and that they will continue to get smaller and smaller:

"Drives with mere hundreds of gigabytes will be small enough to wear as jewelry. "You'll have with you every album and tune you've ever bought, every picture you've ever taken, every tax record,"

Me, I'm not so sure.  Disk storage is ancient, and I hope we get something better.

It's clear that solid-state devices are making huge headway, and several books on Oracle SSD tuning and stepping-up to the new technology.  With prices falling rapidly, I expect that most database will be solid-state in the next few years and that disk will become the "new tape", offline tertiary storage for backups.

Happy birthday, disk. 



 

 
 
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