Tech moves fast! Stay ahead of the curve with Techopedia!
Join nearly 200,000 subscribers who receive actionable tech insights from Techopedia.
A storage device is any type of computing hardware that is used for storing, porting or extracting data files and objects. Storage devices can hold and store information both temporarily and permanently. They may be internal or external to a computer, server or computing device.
A storage device may also be known as a storage medium or storage media depending on whether it is seen as discrete in nature (for example, “a hard drive” versus “some hard drive space.”)
Storage devices are one of the core components of any computing device. They store virtually all of the data and applications on a computer, except for hardware firmware which is generally managed through separate read-only memory or ROM.
Storage devices are available in different forms, depending on the type of underlying device. For example, a standard computer has multiple storage devices including RAM, a cache, and a hard disk. The same device may also have optical disk drives and externally connected USB drives.
There are two different types of storage devices:
Primary storage devices: Generally smaller in size, primary storage devices are designed to hold data temporarily and are internal to the computer. They have the fastest data access speed. These types of devices include RAM and cache memory.
Secondary storage devices: Secondary storage devices usually have larger storage capacity, and they store data permanently. They can be either internal or external to the computer. These types of devices include the hard disk, the optical disk drive and USB storage device.
In order to really understand what storage devices used to look like and what they look like now, it can be helpful to look at a history of evolving storage devices in general.
Early storage devices were primitive mechanical systems based on items like punch cards and later, magnetic tape. They presented binary through physical media.
These became largely obsolete when other digital media was created. First, there were floppy disks and diskettes, then there were compact discs that could hold large amounts of binary in digital formats.
At the same time, computers and other devices continued to be made with primary hard drives, where a traditional platter is read by an arm in order to read and write data.
Eventually, a new option emerged called the solid-state drive or SSD.
New solid-state drives and storage devices store data in a way that's different from the traditional platter hard drive.
Solid-state storage involves running electrical currents through a substrate instead of using a spinning hard drive platter. It eliminates some of the mechanical parts of the traditional hard drive. It also makes the storage of digital information much more efficient.
New computers may have solid-state drives as a primary device. New flash drives and thumb drives use solid-state storage for secondary devices.
At the same time, companies have been updating how they approach storage device engineering for broader enterprise systems. Systems like Redundant Array of Independent Disk (RAID) designs allow companies to use a series of drives to store information in "slices."
Then the storage area network (SAN) evolved, which links together individual storage devices to provide network storage. Something called "storage fabric" uses fiber channel switching to build network storage for enterprise systems.
One of the latest advances in storage media involves the cloud and virtualization. With modern systems, users can store data virtually, rather than using physical hardware on-site. For example, Amazon Web Services offers AWS S3, a type of object storage where instead of being stored in physical hard drive devices, customers store data in virtual buckets. These types of innovations represent the frontier of where storage media is going.