by Maxim Yurin, SoftLogica

"If you would understand anything,
observe its beginning and its development."

Introduction: Computer data backup is a fast developing field nowadays. New trends and solutions appear, backup methods and technologies become more complex. Need complete knowledge of backup technology, related features and methods? A look at its history will definitely help.

Backup is the activity of copying files or databases, so that their additional copies may be restored in case of a data loss accident. Thus, we can emphasize first two aspects related to backup - storage media for data and depositories for backup media. Another important aspect is growing necessity in backup caused by development of computer technologies and data volumes expansion.

In this article we will take a retrospective look at these aspects. We will examine why the need in backup appeared, expansion and development of backup, the most important events and trends in this sphere, and watch the evolution of data backup storage solutions and methods.


The first computer backups were made onto big reels of magnetic tape, and even paper: punch cards and paper tape. In the next era, backups were mostly stored on floppy disks of various sizes. But today's PCs don't even have floppy drives, not to mention punch card processing devices. Backups are now written on CDs, hard drives, flash drives or via network. But some technologies, such as tape backup, still remain very popular and develop. Let's take a closer look at the history of these devices and methods and try to correlate them with backup.

Punch Card Backups as a Reference Point in Backup History

punch cardIn 1951, the first generation of digital computing appeared when the UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer) was built by Mauchly and Eckert. It used vacuum tubes as main logic elements, rotating magnetic drums for internal storage of data and programs and punch cards to input and externally store data.

Thus, punch cards can be considered as the first data storage devices for backup. Of course, we can't talk about holistic and centralized backup methods and strategies when it comes to punch card backups. But they essentially correspond to the definition of backup given in the beginning, because the additional copies of punch cards were made also to restore data in case of a loss.

For more info about punch cards see: Punched Cards, by Douglas W. Jones, THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
Magnetic Tapes and Tape Backup

tapeThough punch cards are so symbolic and have been used for over than 200 years in various fields of expertise, they actually were slow, low-capacity and required a lot of devices, efforts and time for processing. That's why, during the 1960s, the punch card as the primary medium was gradually replaced by better, more capable and more efficient magnetic tape. Since one roll of magnetic tape could store as much data as 10 000 punch cards it achieved instant success and became the most popular way of storing of computer data until the mid 1980s.

Big and small companies and even some home users began to create tape backups. The first backup traditions and strategies started to arise in early 1960. Tape backups were the most widespread, because of tape drive's reliability, scalability and low cost. All these advantages make tape backup an attractive solution even today.

The Evolution of Hard Drives and Disk-to-Disk Backup

hard driveIn 1956 IBM introduced the first hard drive - IBM 305 RAMAC. Over the years HDD technology has been improved rapidly. Since 1983, with the introduction of the IBM PC/XT, hard disk drive has become a standard component for most personal computers. Other vendors also contributed to HDD development. For example, in 1982, Hitachi shipped the first drive with more than 1 GB of storage. One more important event was the introduction of the RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) technology in early 1990s. This data storage scheme uses multiple hard drives to share or replicate data among them. Storing data on hard disks became an attractive and handy solution due to these improvements. Capacity of several hundreds GB priced at about 300$ is today's reality.

In the 1960's and 1970's hard drives were not suitable for backups because of their high price, large size and low capacity. However, already in the mid 1980s hard disks could already be considered for making backups. In the early 1990s they became a real alternative for tape backups. Today, the "battle" between tape and disk backup still rages on.

For more info about disk-to-disk and tape backup see:
- Disk to Disk Backup versus Tape - War or Truce?
- Short History of Disk to Disk Backup
- Disk-to-Disk-to-Tape (D2D2T), an Exabyte White Paper (pdf)
Floppy Disks and their Contribution to Backup

floppyIn 1969 the first floppy disk was introduced. It was a read-only 8-inch disk that could store 80kB of data. Four years later, in 1973, a similar floppy disk with the same size could store 256kB of data, and it was rewritable. Since then the trend has been the same - smaller floppy disks and higher data capacity. In the late 1990s you could easily store 250 MB of data on ŕ 3-inch disk.

Floppy disks were considered as revolutionary media for transporting data from one computer to another. They could not store as much data as hard disks, but, being much cheaper and more flexible, they became very widespread. Of course, this trend affected the backup sphere. Since 1973 after 8-inch - SSSD became common and were being used to move smaller amounts of data around, floppy disks began to be widely used for backup purposes. Floppy disk backup was not as wide-ranging as tape backup. But as these disks were rather cheap and very handy, they quickly became one of the most prevalent backup media among home users and small companies.

CD-R/RW and DVD - New Backup Media

CD and DVDThough the 3.5-inch floppy disk had been a boon to home users and small businesses who needed backups, they had relatively low capacity. This problem had been solved with introduction of the next generation in storage media: CD-Recordable (CD-R) and CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) drives. The Compact Disc, first invented by Philips and Sony in 1979, reached the market in late 1982 in Asia and early the following year appeared in other markets. In June 1985, the CD-ROM (read-only memory) and in 1990 CD-Recordable were introduced, also developed by Sony and Philips.

In the early 1990's CD-R were not commonly used for backups, because of high costs. But later, when CD-ROM drive became a usual device for practically every computer and prices for compact disks tangibly fell, backup on CD became very popular and widespread. CDs practically pushed away floppies by the beginning of new millennium. Introduction of DVD with about 4GB capacity after 1995 has only strengthened this trend.

Flash Drives and Data Backup

flash drivesPortable USB storage flash drives, invented in 1998, are rather new to the world of data backup, but they have already become very popular. The smallest of these drives stores several times more data than a traditional 3,5 inch floppy disk, and larger ones can hold as much data as a CD-ROM or even more. Considering the size, power and cost-effectiveness of these drives, it is no wonder that they are becoming a powerful force in the data backup market.

Blu-ray Disks and HD-DVD - The New Generation of Backup Media

blu-rayBlu-laser discs using organic dyes, such as the Sony Blu-ray format (between 23GB and 54GB) and Toshiba's HD-DVD are the next step to further reduction of the cost of removable media along with capacity growth and improvement of usability. They appeared on the market in 2006 and are already considered as promising devices for data backup.

For more info about blu-ray disks see:
- What is blu-ray
- Blu-ray Disc
For more info about all these and some more storage devices and their history see:
- The Evolution of the Major Computer Storage Devices (pdf)
- The History of Computer Storage
- The History of Data Storage
- The History of Computer Data Storage: The Timeline
- Data Storage Device
For more info about choosing devices for backup see:
- Selecting Proper Backup Devices
- How to Choose a Backup Storage Device
- Types of Data Backup Storage For Your Computer
Network and On-line Backup Solutions

network backupFurther development of backup is closely connected to the evolution of network and Internet technologies. As local networks appeared, remote backup to other computers connected to yours became possible. Local and global networks enabled use of remote computers’ storage volumes all over the world for your critical data backups. To get protected against a disaster or other site-specific problem, many people prefer to send backup files to an off-site vault. Let's take a brief look at the evolution of the most important backup-related inventions and solutions.

Local Area Networks
The first LANs (Local Area Networks) were created in the late 1970s and used to provide high-speed links between several large central computers at one site. Emergence of LAN technology was the most significant trend of the late 1980s and early 1990s in storage systems and also influenced the sphere of backup greatly.

File Transfer Protocol
FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, appeared in 1985. It connects two computers over the Internet so that users can transfer files from one machine to another and perform file commands remotely. Specifically, FTP is a commonly used protocol for exchanging files over any network that supports the TCP/IP protocol. It lets users transfer reserve copies of data between computers easily.

Network Attached Storage
In the middle 1980s, Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems appeared, designed to be attached to traditional data network. Since the introduction of the NAS device concept to the marketplace in 1992, the technology was widely accepted, and many major storage manufacturers added NAS devices to their product offerings, including various backup options.

Storage Area Network
A storage area network (SAN) is a network designed to attach computer storage devices such as disk array controllers and tape libraries to servers. It allows a machine to connect to remote targets such as disks and tape drives on a network. SAN can serve the backup purposes. It offers high-speed, immediate and programmable backup solutions to large enterprises.

For more info about network and offsite backup and storage technologies see:
- NAS, DAS or SAN? - Choosing the Right Storage Technology for Your Organization
- Learning Guide: SAN-based backups
- Storage Area Networks, Niharika Kothari, Michigan Technological University (pdf)
- Server-free, LAN-free or SAN-free backup: Which do you need?
- Offsite Backup: Benefits and Threats Unveiled
World Wide Web
The Internet was the result of some visionary thinking by people in the early 1960s who saw great potential value in making computers share information on research and development in scientific and military fields. Forerunners of today's Internet were ARPANET (born in 1969), NSFNet (1983) (National Science Foundation Network) and some others. The Internet in its modern way appeared in 1990, when the first web page appeared.

Importance of online backup services has evolved dramatically in the past few years. Since the late 90s, online backup services have become more and more available for corporate and single users all over the world. Backing up via network or Internet to a remote location can protect against some worst-case scenarios, such as house or office burning down, destroying any backups along with everything else.

For more info about the Networks, Internet and their history see:
- Histories of the Internet
- Hobbes' Internet Timeline
- Internet
All these inventions and developments have become technological basis for data backup practices. But why there emerged a need for backup and what factors influenced its development? Let's look at some statistics concerning data volumes and data loss accidents:

  • The amount of new information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical media has doubled in the last three years. *
  • Print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about 5 exabytes of new information in 2002.
    92 percent of the new information was stored on magnetic media, mostly on hard disks
total data stored on hard disk

*The quotations and the data for the chart are taken from the study of The School of Information Management and Systems (SIMS), University of California, Berkeley
causes and episodes of data loss

**The data is taken from the article "The Cost of Lost Data", Graziadio Business Report, Pepperdine University.

As we can see, data volumes get larger and larger and data loss accidents happen more and more often. In this way, the ultimate growth of computerization, information volumes and data loss accidents stimulate development of backup sphere. About 70% of business people have experienced data loss due to accidental deletion, disk or system failure, viruses, fire or some other disaster in 2006, according to a survey by Carbonite, which provides online backup services to consumers (USA Today). But the need in more centralized and complex approach to backup already arose in the early1980s. Spontaneous and occasional backups on different media could not guarantee complete data safety any more. So, the new kind of business appeared - providing managed backup services and special software for making backup process more handy and effective.

Here is the list of several companies - the first to offer backup services and solutions:

- Exabyte Corporation provides backup solutions based mostly on tapes and disks for small and large businesses and public institutions since 1970s.
- Remote Backup Systems, founded in 1987, offers software for Internet-based backups.
- IBM became one of the first major vendors to develop a storage software product that automatically backed up files over the network to disk or tape with its well-known Tivoli Storage Manager, introduced in 1993.
- Veritas NetBackup, founded in early 1990s and later acquired by Symantec, provides enterprise level cross-platform backup on lots of devices with support of tape vaulting, network and Internet solutions.

In the mid 1990s hundreds of companies appeared, such as CommVault, EVault, NetMass, Acronis, Arkeia, providing various backup services, solutions and software for optimizing backup processes.

For more info about companies offering backup software and services see:
- Backup software companies, links and backup products
- Smaller Players In The Backup Market

Afterword: We have shown how the development of computer and information technologies and data loss accidents growth lead to creation and evolution of the special sphere called "computer data backup". It has its own history which started with the beginning of digital computer era, passed through the evolution of all data storage devices, network, Internet and software technologies and still keeps growing and advancing rapidly. Don't forget to backup your critical data!

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Timeline: Data Backup Storage

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