Thursday, July 19, 2007

Data Storage Getting Cheaper

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” This quote is attributed to Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder, when quizzed many years ago about the amount of memory that should be sufficient for computer users. The prediction by Gates, apocryphal or not, proved false as even the most inexpensive computers now come with several gigabytes (billions of bytes) of memory. Heck, the temperature control on your modern refrigerator has more memory than 640K.

Even more phenomenal is the plunging cost of data storage. Last year when my wife was heading on a trip, I picked up a few extra memory cards for her digital camera. When I looked for new 128 megabyte (128,000.000 byte) cards I could find none available. I was delighted to find 1 Gigabyte cards ( i.e. about 9X more capacity) for a fraction of the price we paid for the 128 Meg cards a year or so ago.

A recent advertising supplement from a local computer retailer has several memory cards and USB memory sticks for sale with 2 and 4 Gigabyte capacities for less then $20 each. Putting this in perspective, a 1 Gig card can hold the equivalent of more than 200 copies of the King James Version of the Bible. Remember the old 5 ½ inch floppy disks? It would take 14 disks to store the text of just one copy of the Bible.

So what does this mean? Well for certain, keeping photos and documents in digital form has never been cheaper or easier. That is both the good news and the bad news. Since it is no longer costly to keep stuff, we can easily begin to drown in too much stuff. Gone is the incentive to erase those out-of-focus pictures or that letter you sent to Shillito’s complaining about the malfunctioning Philco Transistor Radio you bought. Why keep that stuff? Because we can!

Seriously, this is a great time to consider using memory cards and USB memory sticks for long term storage. They are compact, rugged and they continue to be offered with more and more capacity.

Manufacturers claim that these memory devices will retain data for as long as 100 years. Few of us using them now will know if that proves to be the case. Since we are storing information in digital form on these devices, it will be relatively easy to move the data to another form of digital storage (when it is invented) without losing data integrity or quality.

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