Many young storage administrators will probably find it hard to believe that once upon a time, disk drives were so expensive that company data was stored on disk only for the duration of the daily processing jobs. Permanent data was kept on cheaper media such as punched cards or tape reels.
The same applied to applications and operating systems. In fact, one of the early OSes for the new revolutionary computing machine of that time, the mainframe, was IBM's TOS, a tape-based operating system that was quickly replaced by its disk-based successor.
Obviously, adopting disk media was the first critical step to extend OSes beyond the narrow constraints of computer memory, an idea from which virtual memory and the general concept of virtualization were born -- both of which are now so important to many aspects of computing, including storage.
Wondering what made me take this trip down mid-1960s memory lane? I think the trigger was the latest news from Seagate, with its battery fire of new disk drive announcements and its (somewhat belligerently stated) intentions to extend market share.
Needless to say, Seagate is not the only disk vendor aiming at a larger piece of the market pie; rival companies including Fujitsu, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, and lately Maxtor recently revealed what they've been cooking in their labs, clearly teasers for future new- and repeat-business deals.
What sets Seagate's June 14 announcements apart from the competition is their boldness. Just one year after announcing its first disk drive for laptops, the company further extended its portfolio with more new entries, such as micro-drives for handheld devices and small form factor SAS (serial attached SCSI).
Trying to repeat all the names and technical specs of the 12 new products announced by Seagate would probably be more confusing than helpful. Suffice it to say that those wares, some already shipping and others expected to be released shortly, cover any possible disk drive application from cameras to enterprise storage, and that you could soon find some in your own living room.
Why was I speaking of boldness? Consider this: Seagate expressed its intention to expand its market share, extending its target market from the current 70 percent to a whopping 95 percent, which wouldn't leave much of the estimated US$22 (AU$32) billion in global storage sales for its competitors.
Moreover, to reach those goals, Seagate must achieve leading status both in traditional and new market segments, which will probably entail aggressively diverting customer orders from the contenders' sales logs to its own.
Doesn't this resemble the beginning of a hand of bridge? Now that four major disk drive vendors have made their opening bid, Seagate seems headed for a winning no-trump contract.
Things can still change, because real-life rules are less compelling than those of bridge. What won't change is that customers are facing another long-lasting buyer's market for disk drives. As in those now-remote 1960s, other media will have to step aside to make room for disk drives, and those new applications will open unprecedented possibilities. Imagine saving 1TB of corporate data in just a couple of drives or recording hundreds of movies in a living room box the size of your VCR. I can hardly wait.
Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center