Understanding the History of Online Backup

From college students writing term papers to business professionals handling data management, computer users understand the importance of data backup. All it takes is an unexpected power surge or computer crash to lose all your hard work. Hours of work may never be recovered without a proper backup, which is why online backup services continue to skyrocket.

With over 2.4 billion internet users, the amount of digital data created doubles every year. Of these users, an estimated one-third will lose their files due to events outside their control. This affects small and major businesses alike. In fact, 93 percent of companies that lost data and were unable to retrieve it within 10 days filed for bankruptcy within the following year.

As the world becomes increasingly digitalized, the importance of online backup cannot be overstated. Just like the internet, the process of online backup is the result of tremendous growth and evolution. Here’s an overview of the history of online backup.

It Begins with the Punch Card

Punch cards were commonly used until the mid-1970s. While backup methods used today are clearly different from the punch card, we can trace the history of online backup to this form of data storage. Punch cards were most commonly used in the textile industry, where numerous duplicate copies of punch cards were made to protect against data loss. The earliest use of punch cards was in 1725, where they were used to control mechanized textile looms.

Though punch cards were the primary use of data storage for two centuries, things quickly changed in the 1960s. Economic growth challenged the prominence of punch cards. They were slow, low capacity, and necessitated the use of multiple devices.

The introduction of magnetic tape spread like wildfire, replacing the use of punch cards in small and big companies alike. By the end of the 1960s, magnetic tapes would be far more popular than punch cards. They stored the same amount of data as 10,000 punch cards, making them a cost efficient solution until computer data was introduced. Tape backups were a reliable and attractive solution for many businesses regardless of industry.

The PC Enters the Scene

While magnetic tape was an excellent alternative to the punch card, it was still inefficient in nature. Long length increased the likelihood of accidental tears and breaks. The physical nature of metal tapes was also inconvenient, as the tape itself was very heavy and bulky.

When IBM introduced the first hard drive in 1956, it became apparent that the dominance of magnetic tape would be short-lived. In fact, the IMB PC/XT hard drive is still a standard component in many personal computers today (with many additional improvements, of course). These hard drives were capable of storing 1 GB worth of data, which was revolutionary for the time.

Adjusted for inflation, these hard drives would be priced at $300 today. While the first hard drives were an incredible and revolutionary solution, the high price and relatively low capacity rendered them unsuitable for many smaller businesses. This created a competitive “battle” between tape and disk backup.

In 1969, the market was introduced to the floppy disk. Aside from the ability to backup data, the ability to transfer data from computer to computer was groundbreaking. The first floppy disk could only hold 80 kB of data, improving to 256 kB within four years. By the 1990s, the storage space would increase to 250 MB of data.

Of course, floppy disks couldn’t hold as much data as the hard drive, but that didn’t matter to the market. They were cheaper, flexible, and very handy. During the 1970s, the floppy disk would be the most widely used form of data storage by individual consumers and businesses alike.

The Rise of New Backup Media

Though the floppy disk was revolutionary media for home and business users, a problem still remained: floppy disks had low capacity for storage. To address the demand for more storage capacity, Sony and Philips worked quickly to develop Compact Discs, CD-Recordable and CD-Rewritable, and introduce them to international markets.

By the early 80s, CDs and DVDs dominated the Asian marketplace. In the United States, however, widespread usage wasn’t mainstream until the mid 1990s. Floppy disks were most commonly used for backups because of lower costs. But as prices fell and the benefits of Compact Discs became extremely clear, floppies would give way to a new generation of storage media. In 1995, the introduction of DVDs, which could store 4 GB of data, would cement CD-R/RW and DVD as the favored option for data backup.

Flash Drives Flash Onto the Scene

Invented in 1998, flash drives quickly gained dominance as the most favored form of data storage. The small size and storage efficiency of flash drives made them a popular alternative to the CD and DVD. They were cost efficient, small, and a powerful force in the backup industry. In fact, the prominence of flash drives is extremely popular to this day.

While flash drives were an excellent development, there was still one problem: data protection relied on the physical condition of the drive. In other words, even if a flash drive was used to back up data, a lost or damaged drive wouldn’t provide any benefit to the user.

Online Backup Solutions Create a Safe, Reliable Alternative

As the internet continued to integrate itself into society, the development of local networks and internet technologies would create a new form of data storage and backup. Now, online backup solutions are a critical component of data protection for businesses and individuals alike. The benefits include:

  • Automation. Online backup can be scheduled by users to occur automatically at the user’s convenience. Backups generally occur in the background, leaving the client’s work uninterrupted.
  • Cloud and external storage. Users no longer have to worry about physical or on-site problems. An online backup sends data to an off-site vault where it’s kept secure.
  • Customization. Online data backups can be customized to meet the specific needs of the user. From scheduling automation to the types of files backed-up, the solution is extremely flexible to the user.


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