While many industries see huge change in half a century, few have been at the heart of so much constant reinvention as the those which have taken place in the world of technology.
It’s easy to forget just how much has changed in 50 years: 1968 saw the development of ARPANET – the foundation technology of the Internet and a project originally funded by the US military. The men and women who built it could hardly have imagined where their efforts would lead.
But it’s that belief in innovation that has led to so many remarkable changes, and here, we ask four technology experts to reflect on what 50 years of innovation means to them.
Half a century of innovation in technology
“Innovation is the bread and butter of the technology industry – we are constantly evolving to bring new and improved ways to live and work,” said Phil White, CTO at Scale Computing.
“Unsurprisingly, this drive for innovation has led to the industry looking remarkably different today than it did 50 years ago. At the forefront of this have been major developments in AI, IoT and robotics. For example, in 1968 we saw the first generation of the iconic Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, but today we are seeing the first generation of fully self-driven cars.
“Similarly, in 1968, a modern data centre with primary storage consisting of racks and racks of tape drives wouldn’t even hold a candle to the computational power we all possess in our smartphones today.
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“Now we are starting to see micro data centres, powering edge computing, enabling smart cars and in the future smart cities to make more accurate and informed decisions. It is important to remember that to achieve these awe-inspiring advances, huge innovations had to be made behind the scenes. Data storage may be less glamorous than the self-driving car it enables, but without it these technology advances wouldn’t be possible. Today IT has come a long way and virtually everyone is touched by it in some form.”
The growth of data storage
Data storage has been a major influencing factor on wider tech innovation, according to Jake Madders, Director at Hyve Managed Hosting:
“When IBM launched its first hard disk drive in 1956, its state-of-the-art storage solution offered 5MB of capacity and weighed in at over a ton. Today, if you visit the PC World website, the smallest capacity flash drive you can buy is 16GB, will cost you less than £6 and fit easily in the palm of your hand.
“In essence, that tells the story of data storage in the last 50+ years: it’s a technology that has seen massive progress in technology, capacity, and is available today as a highly diverse range of products from a huge number of vendors. From the biggest data centres to individual home users, our collective need to hang on to data has created one of the most important hardware markets on the planet.
“Until it breaks, we all take it for granted. But at the business end of the storage spectrum, that can be a hugely expensive problem. 50 years ago, storage needed a lot of human intervention to keep it running, and although storage today is just a part of a much more complex IT environment, many businesses still attach huge value to the role people still play in the delivery and management of their storage.”
Data’s exponential rise
That level of progress shows just how important the exponential rise in the creation of data has become to commerce and society, argues Gary Watson, CTO and Founder at Nexsan:
“The last 50 years have witnessed some major milestones in the world of IT. Before 1968 we didn’t have email, personal laptops or mobile phones. But today, we have moved into a digital world where almost everyone is leaving a digital fingerprint of some sort. IT penetrates almost every aspect of our lives, generating massive amounts of data which powers business value.
“Data is the lifeblood of many organisations and being able to store, access and protect it is vital to success. We have moved beyond floppy discs and USB drives to more integrated, secure and flexible storage systems. As the market adapts and changes so do the regulations thus creating new challenges for privacy and secure data requirements. As a result, we have seen the market adapt as there is a demand for new storage solutions. In the past 50 years, we innovated and developed to create a life that is driven by data and its value. Having the ability to support and underpin this is fundamentally essential in today’s data driven age.”
Innovation is vital to future progress
And it’s the value of this data – and the need to keep it safe – which means that innovation remains critical for the future, according to Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, Technology Evangelist, Zerto:
“Of all the technology that has advanced in the past 50 years, the process of backing up data has not kept pace and is behind on the tech evolutionary curve. We are still taking periodic copies directly from our production systems and storing these in a ‘safe’ place. Yes, we have moved from storing it on floppy discs to storing it in the cloud but the concept remains the same. Unfortunately, this simplistic idea of backup no longer fits the modern needs of always-on organisations, and so backup has had to evolve.
“In today’s world, many organisations are still only backing up once per day, and overnight. This means that the potential data loss could be days or more. Essentially, backup as it is traditionally known is becoming obsolete and continuous data protection is paving the way for backup of the future.
“With over 50 years of backup technology advancements behind us, organisations are beginning to realise that backup itself needs to be part of a bigger IT resilience strategy that protects infrastructure and reputation, and enables innovation and transformation without outages.”
Where we’ll be in another 50 years, and whether we are getting better at predicting where innovation will take us, is up for debate. What seems certain, though, is that the unrelenting pace of change will remain undiminished and give our children and grandchildren the opportunity to pick out the greatest tech achievements of our age.