Big Data in 1956: IBM Launches the Disk Drive Industry

IBMdisk350InsideToday in 1956, IBM announced the 305 and 650 RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting) “data processing machines,” incorporating the first-ever disk storage product. The 305 came with fifty 24-inch disks for a total capacity of 5 megabytes, weighed 1 ton, and could be leased for $3,200 per month ($27,482 in today’s dollars). Using language familiar to anyone reading today about “Big Data,” IBM described the product as “a stack of disks that stores millions of facts and figures less than a second from management’s reach. Because transactions are processed as they occur, the fresh facts held in a random access memory show business as it is right now, not as it was hours or weeks ago.”

Today you can buy a 1 terabyte Seagate 3.5-inch disk drive, the size and weight of a small book, for $85 from Amazon.

The 305 RAMAC created an industry that is estimated at $32.6 billion in 2013, according to iSupply. But this is down from $36.7 billion last year, as solid state drives (flash memory) used in mobile devices are growing fast at the expense of hard disk drives. Indeed, a leading disk manufacturer, Western Digital, just acquired flash storage supplier Virident.

Whatever form the storage takes, IBM created in 1956 new markets and businesses based on fast access to digital data. As Seagate’s Mark Kryder reminded us in 2006:  “Instead of Silicon Valley, they should call it Ferrous Oxide Valley. It wasn’t the microprocessor that enabled the personal video recorder, it was storage. It’s enabling new industries.”

See also Spinning Disks and First Disk Drive Announced