Storage devices, or digital storage, are undoubtedly the most fundamental components of the computing process. Without them, computers would simply not function properly.
Their history goes back to the 1950s when IBM developed the first hard disk drive for the IBM 305 RAMAC computer. Despite its revolutionary impact on computing, this drive had a total capacity of just under 5MB.
Since then, however, storage devices have progressively become more powerful and sophisticated, thanks to technological advancements. There are now numerous types of storage devices that come with unique features and capabilities.
This post will explore various types of storage available today and some of the benefits they present. But before we dive in, let us first cover the basics of storage devices and why they are crucial to computing.
What is a Storage Device?
A storage device is essentially any piece of computing hardware used to store, recall, and extract data files.
These gadgets can store data either temporarily or permanently and can be internal (pre-fitted inside a computing device) or external (separate from the actual computer or server).
Why are Storage Devices so Vital to Computing?
As previously mentioned, storage devices play a crucial role in storing and availing data when needed. Consequently, computers cannot save, recall, or modify any data or information fed into them without storage devices.
While a computer will still run without storage, its function would be limited to only viewing information. In essence, it cannot download or upload data, making even the simplest tasks, such as browsing the internet impossible.
Types of Storage
There are four types of storage devices:
- Magnetic storage devices
- Optical storage devices
- Flash memory devices
- Online/cloud storage
Let us now look at each of these types of storage and the various devices under each category.
1) Magnetic Storage Device
Magnetic storage devices are one of the oldest and widely used data-storage technologies in computing systems. These devices use magnetization to store data on circular magnetic disks.
The read-write head moves close to a magnetic surface as it detects/reads and modifies/writes on the magnetized areas on the disc. The storage’s magnetic surface is split into very tiny sectors, with each region capable of storing one bit of data.
Therefore, the read-write head reads or writes a sequence of zeros and ones as it moves over the magnetic disk surface. Different magnetic storage manufacturers employ slight variations in the read-write mechanism, but the underlying principle is similar.
Some of the main features of magnetic storage devices include:
All magnetic storage devices are non-volatile, which means the device retains stored data even when not powered. Furthermore, data can be retrieved in entirety from non-volatile storage devices even after a long period of disuse.
These gadgets are generally cheaper than other storage devices – that is why they are widely used in nearly every commercial computer.
iii) Read-Write Capabilities
Magnetic storage drives allow smooth read-write operations, which means these devices can be used repeatedly with minimal loss in storage capacity and data integrity.
iv) Large Capacity
These devices tend to have a large storage capacity, with some having up to thousands of gigabytes of space.
The downside of magnetic storage devices is that retrieving data can be slow. Due to this reason, most computers use this type of storage for non-volatile storage of large amounts of data, and a different device for system memory, which has less capacity but can be accessed a lot faster.
Some of the types of magnetic storage include:
- Hard Disk Drive
A hard disk drive, also known as a hard disk or hard drive, is a storage device found in almost every computer. Although hard disks usually come installed in computers, they are also available as external hard drives.
Hard drives typically use magnetic storage to record and retrieve data and information from one or more of a set of fast-rotating disks. These gadgets perform a wide variety of functions, including storing the files of the computer’s operating system, software, audio files, videos, photographs, and other forms of media.
- Floppy Disk
A floppy disk (or a diskette) is an old form of magnetic storage used in the 70s until the 21st century. The first floppy disks produced were 8-inches in size. However, advancements in computing technology led to size reduction to 5 ¼ and eventually 3 ½ before floppy discs became obsolete.
- Magnetic Tape
In the past, a magnetic tape storage device was used to store digital data due to its unlimited length and low cost. This now archaic digital storage technology typically consisted of a thin magnetizable coating wrapped around a long plastic strip.
They generally work by converting electrical signals into magnetic energy, which later imprints a record of the signals onto a tape covered by magnetic particles. However, this digital storage media has been phased out by modern storage media – which are much faster and more reliable.
Pros and Cons of Magnetic Storage Devices
- Generally less expensive compared to other types of storage
- Are non-volatile, which means data remains stored even when power is plugged off
- Are read-write compatible and can, therefore, be used multiple times
- Have a large storage capacity, which allows for huge amounts of data to be stored
- Can be noisy during operation
2) Optical Storage Devices
An optical storage device is a media that stores and reads data using lasers. Optical storage devices are a common feature of everyday life as many people use them in the form of CDs and DVDs to listen to music or watch movies.
As computing technology improves, manufacturers produce new optical storage devices that can pack more data for official and domestic use.
Some of the main features of these storage media include:
Optical storage devices are generally easy and cheap to manufacture, which makes them relatively inexpensive. This fact has undoubtedly contributed to their popularity among average computer users.
Most optical storage devices are lightweight, which makes them very portable and versatile to use.
Optical storage devices are removable disks, which means you can eject them from a computer quickly. This is in contrast to magnetic storage, such as hard drives, whose disks are typically built-in.
iv) Large Storage Capacity
Most optical storage gadgets have large storage capacities that can hold vast amounts of data compared to magnetic storage devices such as floppy diskettes and magnetic tape.
However, one of the disadvantages of these optical storage media is that they are highly vulnerable to scratching. Nevertheless, most drives and their accompanying software have error-correcting systems meant to prevent the loss of information in case of scratches.
Examples of optical storage devices include:
- Compact Disc (CD)
A compact disc is a type of optical storage device that uses lasers to read and record data and information.
The first compact discs to be produced were CD-ROMS, which were read-only. However, in later years, CD-Rs (writable compact discs) and CD-RWs (re-writable compact discs) were introduced. A typical CD today can store about 700 megabytes (MBs) of data.
- Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) and Blu-ray Discs
These are forms of digital data storage similar to CDs, but with much higher storage capacity. They are, therefore, better suited for storing large amounts of data. For instance, a Blu-ray disc can hold up to 25 gigabytes (GBs) of data on a single-layer disc and twice that amount on a dual-layer disc.
Pros and Cons of Optical Storage Devices
- Inexpensive compared to other types of storage media
- Have large storage capacity
- Lightweight and highly portable
- Are susceptible to scratching and damage
3) Flash Memory Devices
A flash memory device is a type of non-volatile digital storage medium that can be programmed or erased electronically. These storage devices are solid-state, which essentially means they are compact and do not have any moving parts.
They are used as a fast and easy way to store data in various gadgets, including computers, video game consoles, and digital cameras.
Some of the features of flash memory storage devices include:
i) Lightweight and Portable
Flash memory storage gadgets are generally small in size and lightweight, which makes them highly portable. A typical flash memory device measures only a few inches in size, and some are even smaller.
Flash memory storage gadgets are solid-state and do not have any moving parts. This allows them to operate quietly, unlike magnetic and optical storage devices such as hard discs and CDs that produce noise due to their spinning mechanism.
Flash memory devices are generally less expensive and can store large amounts of data, although their storage capacities tend to be lower than magnetic hard drives.
Some of the common types of flash memory devices include:
- Memory Card
A memory card is a flash storage device used in smartphones and digital cameras. This type of storage can hold a wide range of digital content, including audio, video, images, and print media.
- USB Flash Drive
A USB flash drive (also known as a thumb drive or memory stick) is a flash memory digital storage device that comes fitted with a USB interface, allowing the gadget to be plugged into a computer.
Flash drives tend to be highly efficient compared to optical devices such as CDs and DVDs, and the absence of mechanically moving parts makes them highly durable.
- Solid-State Drive (SSD)
A solid-state drive is a type of flash memory storage device commonly used in modern computing gadgets such as laptops, notebooks, desktops, and servers. SSD storage devices are now more popular than magnetic hard discs or HDD due to the following features: –
- Faster read-write speeds
- Quiet operation
- Low power consumption and
- Greater long term reliability.
However, the cost per gigabyte of solid-state digital storage devices is much higher than hard drives, making them quite pricey.
Pros and Cons of Flash Memory Storage
- Are non-volatile
- Very reliable
- Noiseless operation
- Highly durable
- Some types can be very expensive, e.g., solid-state drives
4. Cloud Storage
This type of storage allows data to be stored in a virtual location (cloud), from where it can be accessed remotely from any device through the internet. Instead of (or in addition to) storing data on their hard discs or solid-state drives, users can send data to servers maintained by a cloud service provider.
Cloud storage has several features and attributes that make it a highly attractive method of storing data to business enterprises and other organizations. These include:
i) Scalability and Elasticity
Unlike other digital storage media such as HDDs and SSDs, which have a fixed capacity, cloud storage can be scaled up to meet the growing data storage demands of a business, since data is stored in a virtual location rather than a physical one.
Cloud storage allows for stored data to be accessed and retrieved remotely via the internet, making it a highly efficient method of storing digital data.
iii) Metered Connection
Data storage via the cloud is typically done through a metered connection. This means the cloud storage provider charges its clients according to the amount of data sent, making it a very flexible and cost-effective way for large organizations to store their data since they do not have to invest in expensive physical storage infrastructure.
Some of the types of cloud storage include:
- Personal Cloud Storage
This form of cloud storage is facilitated by a network-attached device that allows users to store various kinds of information, including music, videos, audio, and text. The owner of the device can then access this from anywhere as long as they have internet connectivity.
- Private Cloud Storage
This type of cloud storage employs on-site storage servers that are managed by the organization that owns them. Private cloud servers are mostly used by companies that prefer to exercise direct control of their data servers due to security concerns.
- Public Cloud Storage
In this type of cloud storage, the service is provided by a third-party organization that builds, owns, and manages the infrastructure by itself.
- Hybrid Cloud Servers
Hybrid cloud storage features vital elements of private cloud, public cloud, and data center, depending on an organization’s unique needs and specifications.
It typically combines infrastructure owned and managed by a business enterprise, with the data servers owned by a cloud service provider to deliver highly secure and cost-effective data storage.
Pros and Cons of Cloud Storage
- Allows for data to be accessed remotely
- Data is replicated in physical and virtual locations, thus mitigating the risk of loss
- Economical way of storing large amounts of data (especially for big organizations)
- Can be easily scaled to meet the changing storage needs of an organization
- Data recovery is possible
- It requires internet connectivity
- Susceptible to data theft or breach by malevolent forces
A Final Word
Digital storage devices have certainly come a long way since the early days of computer technology. From 3 ½ inch floppy diskettes and magnetic tapes to high capacity SSD and cloud storage, there are plenty of options designed to meet the ever-growing demand for data storage and security.
Whether you are looking for a simple and inexpensive device for domestic use or a highly sophisticated storage system for your business organization, you can always find great storage to meet all your data storage needs.