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A Brief History of Data Backup

A Brief History of Data Backup

While data backup is a necessary component to any modern business’ success, the idea itself certainly isn’t modern. The act of protecting information dates back to before dates were even an inkling, when humanity was still writing data on cave walls to preserve it and notching animal bones to aid in primitive mathematics. Let’s review the history of data preservation, and how we’ve gotten to our current point.

Earliest Humanity
Data backup has been around, in some form or another, for as long as humanity has been. There’s actually a fair argument to be made that humanity is around because of our ability to identify patterns, commit them to memory, and share it with others. It was this sharing of information, this primitive and imperfect backup, that allowed humanity to persevere. In many ways, this is also why we know what we do about them and their way of life.

The Dawn of Civilization
With the advent of basic civilization came many new practices. For instance, stories were no longer spread exclusively through word-of-mouth, preserved only by memory. Instead, images were scratched into the stony cave walls that our ancestors took shelter in, images that gradually developed into a recognizable written language of sorts. The ancients began to understand that, if these stories and the information they conveyed weren’t preserved, they would be lost to time.

Consider ancient Egypt. An entire class of people, known to us as scribes, were responsible for preserving information for future use, making copy after copy on papyrus. Trained in the rare gift of literacy, scribes were held in high esteem, and it is due to their actions that we know much of what we know about their society - all three thousand tumultuous years of it.

The Origins of Data Systems
One wouldn’t at first consider things like painted cave walls, papyrus records, and stone carvings to be classified as data systems. However, when put to use as these peoples of the past did, they certainly qualify. The next big revolution was putting the contents of these data systems to bound paper, the first books, filling the first libraries. The scribes of the time worked tirelessly, producing copy after copy of their reproductions. However, a problem with this system came to light - despite what members of the upper classes likely felt at the time, the scribes of this era were only human. This meant that mistakes were easily made, and it wasn’t uncommon for revisions to be made to the text based on the scribe’s personal political or religious loyalties.

However, literacy exploded in popularity with the spread of the Holy Roman Empire, and with it came a great rise in innovative thought and inventive engineering. However, those politico-religious powers rose during the next few hundred years, and as a result, many works of great thinkers and leaders from the great civilizations of the past were destroyed as heresy.

Gutenberg and the Printing Press
Finally, in the middle of the 15th century, the moveable-type printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, allowing manuscripts to be printed and reproduced quickly, and (as historians believe) for the modern period of human history to truly begin.

Thanks to the Gutenberg press, manuscripts were able to be copied over much more quickly, without fear that a scribe would make any edits of their own, allowing the practicable mass production of reading materials. This helped to benefit the mass rise in literacy across the Western world and allowed works that had made it through the Restoration to be spread anew. A middle class formed, bridging between the peasantry and nobility, and innovation and invention continued to thrive as the balance of power started to shift.

Data in Industry
After many years, filled with wars, inventions, and shifts in power, the Industrial Revolution came about and reshaped how data could be used in business and business technology. One standout example was the widespread adoption of punched card technology and its use in collecting and storing the vast amount of data that the modernized, no-longer-feudal society needed. This technology was originally developed in early 19th century France as a way to automate the production of textiles. Instead of working the looms themselves, workers could use a piece of paper that the mill would ‘read’ to create a pattern. Later on, Herman Hollerith developed a way to use punched card technology to control machines, much like a player piano. This technology was first used in the 1890 United States census, allowing totals to be tabulated much faster than a human being could manually add them up. Unfortunately, the results of this census were destroyed in a fire just twenty years later, but this led to the establishment of one of the world’s largest data backups in the form of the U.S. National Archives.

Hollerith used this punch card technology to form the Tabulating Machine Company, which was one of the companies that would ultimately merge to become International Business Machines, or IBM. With IBM behind it, punch card technology quickly became the technology of choice for data entry, processing, and storage, and would power time clocks, voting machines and general computer programming for decades. However, it didn’t come without its own shortcomings - a major one being what to do with the cards that were needed for the data to be preserved. Eventually, magnetic tape was developed as an alternative, and backup technology was changed yet again.

Tape is On a Roll
As a point of reference, there were millions of punch cards in existence in the early 1950s, when tape was first introduced. Each roll of tape could store as much data as it once took 10,000 punch cards to preserve and cost less to process. As a result, tape quickly phased out punch cards, and by the early ‘60s, even small businesses were using tape to take a backup of their computer data.

This method was incredibly effective at this point in time, before home computing had even been developed. A single spool of tape could hold all of the data an organization developed and was a very reliable form of backup. It isn’t even that tape doesn’t work as a backup solution anymore, it just doesn’t work as well as other easily available options - and there are shortcomings in today’s business environment. Since tape needs time to take the backup, it has to be run when nobody is using the systems. With more and more businesses operating at all hours, this is less and less of an option. Plus, tape is slow to restore. It can take several hours to restore a single tape, and longer if your business requires multiple tapes. When a business is already crippled due to a major data loss event today, this delay can have a huge impact.

Disk Drives
It wasn’t too long after tape drives were developed that IBM also developed the first hard disk drive, or HDD. The first of these were outrageously expensive, costing thousands of dollars for a few megabytes of storage (the equivalent of a couple mp3 files by today’s standards), but it wasn’t long before the technology was incorporated into the massively popular personal computer so that files could be easily stored and accessed.

Hard disk drives didn’t immediately replace tape as a backup - in fact, it ultimately took until the 1990s for this change to become popular. Again, tape was a more cost-effective option, and HDD still didn’t have a way to connect easily to other systems. However, prices continued to drop for hard drives and their capacity grew, so when USB connections were developed, the switch to HDD backups suddenly made much more sense. Not only are they faster, software can set an automated backup to run, preventing incremental data loss.

Of course, other kinds of drives have also been used to store data, including floppy drives, zip drives, and the more modern flash drives. While there isn’t much operational difference between these methods and a hard disk, their small capacity means that using them is effectively like trying to return to the punch card method - ineffective.

Instead, most businesses save their backups on a hard drive, either kept on premises or remotely, safe in a dedicated business center. This is augmented by some of the most recent developments to backup technology and data loss mitigation:

The Cloud
The cloud is nothing new in technology, as it can be very basically summed up as an array of computers that you pay to use and store data on that use broadband Internet to transfer the data back and forth. Back when it was first introduced, users had a healthy skepticism about cloud services and their data’s security. It was because of this skepticism that many organizations have built in-house cloud storage on their own servers or collocated their files to a facility where server management was their responsibility.

Like anything else, there are some pros and cons to using cloud technology. Not having to manage your own hardware, thereby saving expenses and time, is a big plus. However, the more data you have, the faster your costs will climb - and despite cloud services typically being a by-month expense, a large enough cache of data in the cloud may not be feasible to maintain.

This solution is where all of the history of data backup and security has been leading, the Backup and Disaster Recovery system. This two-pronged solution both backs your data up onto a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device and to an offsite data center. Combining the storage capabilities of both the cloud and the hard drive of the NAS device, the BDR can keep multiple copies of your business data ready to help restore your business’ operations should something happen - including server failure. Retention of your data in usable form - just like the cave paintings of our distant ancestors.

At Computerware, we both understand how critical your data is to your success, and we’re passionate about helping you to protect it. For a backup and disaster recovery strategy that meets your business’ needs, reach out to us at (703) 821-8200.

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