Monday, December 5, 2016
VOLUME -24 NUMBER 7
Publication Date: 07/1/2009
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Archive >  July 2009 Issue >  Tech Watch > 

40 YEARS OF DATA STORAGE

Back in the days when Verbatim® came into being, clean room workers in green hats and smocks were still stringing ferrite beads on memory frames. It was an era that saw huge computers; a mere 32k of RAM filled an entire room with those frames full of beads. Magnetic tape spun from big reel to big reel as the preferred medium of mass storage, and if you got lucky, a search for a particular record could be found in 10 minutes or so. A typical room-filling computer system had several of these tape systems all running and searching. Many systems still ran on punched cards — a holdover from prewar years — which held individual records. Large cooling fans blew gales of air through the racks to keep those precious transistors from overheating. Input and output was through a machine very much like a Teletype, which would print out long scrolls of yellow paper and would consume a lot of punched tape. In spite of the transistors, it was very electro-mechanical; it was all very impressive.

That was 40 years ago (1969), and Verbatim came into being as Information Terminals Corporation, manufacturing those clunky TTY (Teletype-like) terminals. A computer control room — separated from the computer room itself — could be a very noisy place with more than one TTY clanking away, printing out the results from the computer or from a punched tape, punched cards or magnetic tape.

Within a year, Verbatim was introducing the world to a new concept: data stored in a magnetic tape cassette. This particular format became quite familiar to the consuming public during the next decade feeding software and data to machines from companies like Commodore, Texas Instruments, Radio Shack, Atari, and Apple. It was in the mid-70s that Hazeltine developed the first CRT terminals — kludgy monochrome monitors with a keyboard attached. It took a while for somebody to get the idea that keyboards should be separate from the CRT. But these electronic, non-mechanical terminals were the harbinger of a decade of all-in-one personal computers that used magnetic disks.

It was 1974 when the first floppy disks, huge things that were 8 inches in diameter, were introduced by both IBM and Verbatim. Until then, the big computers had been relying on very costly and ungainly magnetic drums that phased out very quickly once the disks were perfected. Thus was introduced the first fast-access mass storage, in a format that was to endure for 30 years in various smaller and more densely-packed disks.

In 1977 Verbatim and hardware maker Shugart partnered to launch the first 5.25-inch floppy disks, which were far more user-friendly and manageable than those 8-inchers had been. This floppy disk size made it possible for manufacturers to field a host of all-in-one desktop computers, only a little larger than the old Hazeltine terminals, with a pair of floppy disk drives built in. These CP/M (Control Program for Microprocessors) machines proliferated. Their built-in RAM storage was limited to 64kB by the nature of the CP/M operating system, so many programs resided in the floppy disks which were accessed repeatedly during even a simple word processing session. Every manufacturer had its own CP/M format, and none were compatible with each other. So other companies built flourishing businesses with conversion software that would make a Kaypro think it was an Eagle, etc. But the same floppy disks fed them all, no matter whose format was used.

In 1983, Verbatim and Sony introduced the 3.5-inch micro diskette that eventually was to have a 1.44MB capacity. This format became the stalwart media storage and exchange format for the next two decades. About the same time, actually in 1981, IBM introduced its personal computer with an operating system from an upstart company called Microsoft . The new operating system, MS-DOS, allowed a computer to access RAM up to 1024kB, slightly over a Megabyte, and suddenly software makers rushed out programs that could make use of this larger amount of memory. These new pograms often used a lot of floppy disks, sometimes requiring as many as 20 disks to install a program.

For all this to happen, companies like Shugart made hard disk drives with larger and larger capacities. In 1983, the average HDD had a capacity of 20MB and cost about $250. Soon there were "plug-in" 20MB drives that would slide nicely into an expansion slot on the computer's motherboard.

Zoom ahead to the 90s and companies like Verbatim were cranking out something brand new: recordable CD ROM discs. The era of the optical drive had arrived. No longer were 20 floppies needed to install a program; now it all fit on a single optical disc. During this era, we also saw the rise of the ZIP drive, a high-capacity floppy disk system that could hold up to 250MB on a single disk.

The turn of the century and the new millennium saw the rise of flash memory drives, a totally different type of storage that soon made floppy disks obsolete. Flash memory has given rise to a product lineup that includes USB flash drives, Micro USB drives, compact flash cards, secure digital cards, ExpressCard SSDs, and a host of related products.

The need for fast, easy ways to store, share and transport data files, presentations, photos, music and video is fueling explosive growth in the worldwide flash-based removable storage industry. According to Parks Associates, the storage needed for the average household's digital media alone will grow from 225GB in 2008 to 625GB in 2011.

In addition to the standard applications such as USB drives, digital still cameras, digital camcorders and portable devices, flash storage is now penetrating the computer industry with SSD drives like Verbatim's recently launched ExpressCard SSD. With capacities of 16, 32 and 64GB, the new solid-state drive (SSD) provides PC and Mac users with plug-in storage that is up to five times faster than USB-based ExpressCards.

One of the keys to Verbatim being first to deliver so many new optical media products is its affiliation with its parent company, Mitsubishi Kagaku Media Co., Ltd., (MKM) and the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation Group (MCC), Japan's largest chemical company. With each performance increase, new manufacturing techniques must be developed in combination with dyes and chemistries that can be reliably written to at extremely high spin rates. As a result, MKM's and MCC's outstanding research and development of new dyes, coatings, base media technologies and manufacturing processes has clearly been an advantage for Verbatim.

2007 was also the year that Verbatim purchased substantially all of the assets of SmartDisk Corporation's external hard drive (HD) and digital imaging business. "Verbatim recognized that consumers and business professionals need the full range of removable and portable storage options optical, flash and hard disk," recalled Randy Queen, Verbatim President. "The acquisition was part of Verbatim's corporate strategy to capitalize on the growing PC external storage market and to complement its existing line of portable storage products."

With the acquisition of SmartDisk, Verbatim continued to expand its product offerings and moved full-speed into the removable HDD and the consumer/small-medium business NAS markets. Recently, the company added the world's first half-Terabyte 2.5-in. Portable Hard Disk Drive (HDD).

The need for fast, easy ways to back-up, store, share and transport data files, presentations, photos, music and video is fueling explosive growth worldwide for the full range of removable and portable storage options. After 40 years in this industry, Verbatim certainly has the expertise and the experience to continue meeting the needs of these expanding markets with highly reliable, technically advanced solutions that are also cost-effective.

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