And Now This... Tape Tech Rewind

Tape storage might not have the glamour it used to, but it’s still a force

For IEEE Spectrum’s 50th anniversary, the editors spent a lot of time over the past year combing through old issues for notable articles. But we often found ourselves distracted by the advertisements. The ads told a parallel story about the rise and fall of different technologies and how they were sold to engineers. So we are bringing you some of the gems we came across, starting with this March 1964 ad for analog data recorders.

After this point, ads for tape systems increasingly began boasting of their use as digital data storage, and they were a regular presence in Spectrum—until ads for disk drives began to crowd in. But tape storage isn’t obsolete yet: In fact, there’s currently a renaissance for data-tape technology, driven by the needs of today’s data centers. In May of last year, Sony announced a new material that could store 185 terabytes on a single tape cartridge, while in January, Google filed for a patent on monitoring vast automated tape libraries.

Companies like Google and Amazon.com are cagey about the details of the inner workings of their data centers, but one thing is clear: Anyone dangling the ashy end of a lit cigarette over any of their storage systems would be rapidly ejected.

This article originally appeared in print as “Rewinding Tape Tech.”

Part of a continuing series looking the story of technology as told through advertisements.

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