May 18 2012

IT History: Stumbling upon the Birthplace of Magnetic Disk Storage

Hitachi storage expert Hu Yoshida marvels at the former IBM lab, where magnetic disk storage got its start.

Standing in the face of history is often an awe-inspiring experience, as Hu Yoshida, Hitachi Data System’s chief technology officer, recently learned firsthand.

In May, Yoshida wrote on his blog about a visit he paid to the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, in San Jose. While waiting in the lobby, he noticed that the very building he was standing in was a piece of IT history. According to displays he noticed on the wall, the courthouse was the site of the first IBM storage lab and the birthplace of magnetic disk storage.

The display consisted of photographs and placards, which described the establishment of the first IBM storage lab and the development of the 305 RAMAC. RAMAC consisted of 50 disk platters, which were 24 inches in diameter. At first, they were mounted on a horizontal spindle, then later they were mounted on a vertical spindle to make it easier to add disks. Each disk had a 5-inch recording bandwidth, with 20 tracks per inch, which could store 100,000 characters (7 bit) per disk. With 50 disks, this totaled 5,000,000 characters per 305 RAMAC. The rotation time was 50 milliseconds while the maximum seek time was 0.6 seconds.

Since I am currently writing a blog series on Big Data, it was interesting for me to be standing in the place where it all began 60 years ago. Many things have changed since then, but it is good to remember what progress can be made when we are focused. IBM was focused on creating a lab for the sole purpose of developing a random access storage device, and they accomplished it in a matter of a few years, from 1952 when the first specs were written until 1955 when the RAMAC was announced. A few years later a young President set a national goal to have a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and that was accomplished.

For more on Yoshida’s thoughts and reflections on this historical flashback, read the full post on his blog.

<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BRL61-IBM_305_RAMAC.jpeg" target="_blank">Public Domain</a>