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2008 forecast: if you build it, they will come.

What would you store on a one-terabyte hard drive?

Every so often milestones are announced that put into perspective how far we've come and the direction we're heading' they may even give us a peek into the future. The milestone announcement of the first digital camera for instance, reminded us of how much photography has evolved and it put film developers and traditional camera makers on notice that things were about to change. The same could be said for other milestone announcements: the first car, the first organ transplant, the first wireless phone.

On January 4, 2007, an announcement was made that marks another important milestone. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of visitors attending the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a group of very dedicated employees from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies announced the first one-terabyte hard drive.

Before you let out a yawn, consider the following: since first being introduced some fifty years ago, the hard drive has had a significant impact on our lives, in a relatively short period of time. Even if you've never owned a computer, this data storage device has changed your life. Without it there would be no ATMs or credit cards; you would have to go to the library's card catalog for your research, and get in line at the travel agent to book a flight, get a hotel reservation or rent a car. Hard drives are the enabling technology behind everything from supermarket scanners to CAT scans and MRI technology. Businesses wouldn't have word processors or spreadsheets and you wouldn't have the quick and inexpensive ability to purchase the clothes you wear, the food you eat or the medicines you take.

So, you may ask, what's a terabyte and why is a one-terabyte hard drive so important?

A terabyte is approximately 1,000 gigabytes or 1 million megabytes. For you and me, it's enough storage capacity to hold a million books or half a million family photos. It's has also been a holy grail milestone of sorts for hard drive engineers who are continually developing new technologies that stretch the limits of what these incredible devices can do.

For the past 25 years or so, the amount of data that can be stored on a hard drive has increased while the cost per megabyte of storage continued to decrease. As a result, these ubiquitous devices, oftentimes working invisibly behind the scenes, have literally changed our day-to-day lives. If you enjoy listening to music on an MP3 player, you owe a bit of gratitude to the advances in hard drive technology that first made them possible. The same is true for video game players, cell phones, GPS systems, video streaming, online music, automobile navigation and maintenance systems, PDAs, laptop computers, digital video recorders, digital cameras, text messaging and e-mail, to name just a very few. As capacity and price improve, new life-changing applications follow. And one thing has been proven again and again' our thirst for quick access to more and more storage is insatiable.

Reaching the world's first one-terabyte milestone was no small feat. There was a ceiling of how much data could be placed on hard drive platters using current technology. Breaking that barrier required a new approach something called Perpendicular Magnetic Recording where the bits of data are aligned perpendicular to the plane of the disk, rather than lying down horizontal to the disk. By standing the data up side-by-side, more data can be stored in the same amount of space. For users, it means huge new possibilities. Consider this:

A one-terabyte hard drive can not only store about one million ebooks, but it can hold 333,000 high resolution photographs, 80 hours of home videos or 500 standard-definition movies. In fact, a one-terabyte drive can hold 250,000 MP3 songs, enough music to play nonstop for about two years without ever repeating a tune. The need for more storage capacity is already upon us with the high-definition (HD) TV programs and Hollywood movies becoming standard. HD video requires at least four times more space to store than standard-definition formats.

But that's what the one-terabyte drive can do now. The future is even more fun to imagine. You need only compare the graphics of today's video games with those of just five or six years ago to understand the implications that higher-capacity hard drives bring to next-generation home entertainment systems. In fact, the one-terabyte hard drive will be a pivotal catalyst for tomorrow's 'smart homes' where everything from lights and security alarms to movies and music will be digitized and networked together. The hard drive will become the epicenter for the entire household with quick any-room access to movies, games, photos and digital appliances of all kinds.

We're already seeing the idea of the 'personal era' of storage take hold. With nearly unlimited, inexpensive data storage, we will soon be able to record every detail of our day-to-day lives. Forget business cards. In the future, every conversation, every person we meet, every movie we see, letter we write, experience we have, will be easily recorded and saved for later recollection. That's where terabytes of storage become necessary. That's the kind of imaginative possibilities this milestone hard drive makes possible.

The first hard drive was introduced in 1956. Named RAMAC (for Random Access Method of Accounting Control), this marvel was about the size of a refrigerator, stored five megabytes of data and cost $35,000 a year to lease. In less than a lifetime, the digital storage capacity of hard drives has increased more than 200,000 times while the dimensions of the disk drive itself has shrunk from a closet-size machine to something that can easily fit into your pocket. The five megabytes of data that used to cost over a quarter of a million dollars to store for a year can now be safely archived for about 19 cents. What's even more fantastic is what this technological evolution has meant to our everyday lives. The world's first one-terabyte hard drive from Hitachi has opened the door to incredible new possibilities.

Larry Swezey is director, Consumer and Commercial HDD, for Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

Larry Swezey, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies
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Title Annotation:Hitachi Global Storage Technologies
Author:Swezey, Larry
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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