How Would Don Draper Handle Data Backup?

May 26, 2015

How Would Don Draper Handle Data Backup?

BY John DeWolf

BCDR

Data backup in the 1960s v. Today - The Men probably would have been a little less ‘Mad’ in 2015.

As a millennial, it’s crazy to think about life before computers, heck, life before the cloud (darn 90s babies). This notion of expected technology struck me while watching one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. The TV buffs out there are probably familiar with Mad Men- many of you probably followed the series right up until its completion.

Stepping into Sterling Cooper, or SCDP, and seeing a computer-less office seems surreal. But hey, Don Draper and the gang didn’t know anything else. To them, clouds were just water and ice particles suspended in the sky. So how exactly did the ad agency function on the day to day? Better yet, how did they keep things in check? Where did all of the data go?

Let’s take it back to the early 1960s and hone in on the technology that SCDP had to implement in order to keep track of their data before that fateful day when the IBM 360 took over the creative lounge.

The 1950s gave birth to magnetic tape and hard drives. These two devices sped up the way individuals stored and accessed data:

  • Magnetic tape was a long strip of plastic, covered in magnetic oxide coating, that stored data on reels. One reel typically held 225KB of data.
  • Hard drives cranked things up a bit. Not only did these disk rotating machines take up large portions of a room, but they also allowed people to retrieve data in any order. Storage capacity for these colossal devices started at 5MB, or 23 of those magnetic tape reels.

Jump to the mid 1960s, and the IBM 360 was born. This brings us to the episode of Mad Men where a reseller comes into SCDP to install the massive computer in 1969. The IBM 360 is met with some mixed feelings. While some see it as a replacement for physical workers, others see it as complementary to the advertising industry as a whole.

“That computer is the Mona Lisa,” expressed by Stan from the show seeing it as a perk to get people through the door of SCDP. Meanwhile, a drunken Don lashes out at the man running the installation, expressing disdain and seemingly describes this technological advance as a threat to himself and his colleagues. So did either of these guys have it right? Well, with their lack of understanding for what this machine was actually capable of…not quite.

The IBM 360 changed the way individuals accessed and used their data. Before this computer, individuals would have to reach out to analysts who could take days or even months to materialize a report. The 360 provided an interactive graphical display terminal where people could use a simple light pen to manipulate graphs and run queries. Now the non-analysts could generate their own forecasts. The largest of models could hold up to 8MB of main memory. This technology also came at a hefty price. Models cost around 2 million, but most companies rented the computers for around $20,000.

So how does the IBM 360 measure up to today’s technology? Well what the Mad Men crew was probably unaware of was that the concept of cloud computing was actually first cooked up in the 1960s. John McCarthy introduced the idea in 1961, but it didn’t come to fruition until 2006! Today, the cloud is roughly estimated to hold more than 1 exabyte of data. 1EB of data is comparable to around 500,000 hard drives- one modern day hard drive holding around 2 terabytes of data, that is. That’s a whole slew of data.

Cloud computing has allowed individuals and corporations to backup data on site, off site, or even both. They can access data from a range of different devices, no matter where they are. The speed and flexibility allotted to us by cloud computing technologies doesn’t come at crazy prices either. Pricing can reflect data storage which is tailored to individual and corporate needs. Having an IBM 360 on site is no longer a costly necessity. The folks at SCDP who mourned the loss their creative lounge probably would have appreciated this approach today. Lucky for them, they didn’t know what they were missing.

For all of the years of innovation in between the 60s and present day, check out this infographic Bits & Bytes: A History of Data Storage.

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