Hard Drives and Storage Space Continue to Become Cheaper and Cheaper

The following isn’t directly related to genealogy but it is related to something that concerns all genealogists: storage of information that we have found. Today, it is easier and much, much cheaper to save information in our own computers or in the cloud than ever before. Saving things in digital format is also much, much cheaper (and safer) than storing paper. However, there are signs that consumers are saving less and less these days.

For the past 35+ years or so, hard drives prices have dropped, from around $500,000 per gigabyte in 1981 to less than $0.03 per gigabyte today. See http://www.mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update for details.

Somewhat surprisingly, manufacturers are selling fewer disk drives to consumers these days than they used to. Consumers are not downloading and saving as many files as they used to, be it text information, music, videos, or anything else. Why not? It appears that the primary reason is that all those things are increasingly more available upon demand in the cloud. There is less need than ever to save things yourself when you can retrieve those items again and again in the future at any time. Even better, the version you retrieve in the future may be updated or be an enhanced version, such as a higher-resolution image or video or contain higher-fidelity sound.

According to mathematician and software engineer Matthew Komorowski at http://www.mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update:

“Services like Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video are supplanting caches of downloaded music and movies, and making it easier for consumers to manage their media catalogs.

the cloud
For reliable storage of personal files, consumers are increasingly turning towards the internet. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Amazon Cloud Storage are making it easier for people to not only backup documents and photos, but also share across multiple devices. These services also provide redundant storage and, as with the streaming services mentioned above, make our lives simpler and less prone to catastrophic loss.

the fall of the desktop (and the laptop for that matter)
As smartphones and tablets become more integrated into our lives, we are seeing much less reliance on personal computers as the single point of access for digital content. This makes a monolithic hard drive in a home office feel less like home-sweet-home and more like an inconvenience.”

Why download and save something yourself when the same thing(s) remains available at any time in the cloud? Yes, we can all think of exceptions but the fact remains that MOST THINGS that were available once online remain available more or less forever.

I must admit that I am bucking the trend: I am saving more and more these day, much more than I did just a few years ago. Admittedly, I save very little on my own hard drive(s) as all of my important files are stored in private and encrypted areas in the cloud. I save not only genealogy information, but also digital images of almost every piece of paper worth saving that comes into my life. I save photocopies of census records, deeds, pages from genealogy books, insurance documents, bank statements, Christmas cards, my grandchildren’s art work, users manuals, sales receipts, product warranties, prescriptions, recipes, and a lot more. All of my information is saved in the cloud where everything is instantly available from my desktop computer, laptop computer, or cell phone within seconds, wherever I am. Being able to find and retrieve any document or movie or song within seconds is a great luxury. It is also low-cost.

So yes, I am old-fashioned: I am saving more than ever these days.

Are you saving more than ever? Or less? Why?


I can’t stop thinking I need a paper/hard copy but having everything on a cloud is great for sharing with family.


    —> I can’t stop thinking I need a paper/hard copy…

    You can always have BOTH.

    It is perfectly acceptable to have a paper copy (or the original piece of paper) PLUS multiple digital copies, all saved in different places, as backups for the paper.


I find I’m saving more because so much information I found on line in the past *has* actually disappeared as companies are bought and sold and websites are taken down or moved behind subscription paywalls.


You mentioned Dropbox, Google Drive, and Amazon Cloud Storage. A year or two ago, it seems like the options were Carbonite and similar services from Norton, MiMedia, etc. Briefly, what is the difference in those two types of services?


I agree the cloud concept can be very handy, and have made use of it often at a lower level (i.e., sharing small files as a convenience for myself and others). For certain work-related and other matters I use Dropbox BUT I would never rely on the cloud for my primary archival storage. There is too much distance between my fingertips and cloud data, and the link between them is very fragile – assuming the network and cloud service remains reliable and forever available (for which there is no guarantee).
On the shelf by my desk at home I have a stack of 2TB full-size, loose computer hard drives with Projects (including my genealogy collection), Audio, Images, Videos, Training materials, and similar redundant drives with backups of the same. Most of the data on these drives is a duplicate of two main 1TB portable external hard drives that I carry with me back and forth from the office (my portable “cloud”).
In the office I have a yet another backup copy of my most important projects on that computer’s internal hard drive. I suppose having yet another copy in the actual remote cloud would be ideal, but due to the many, many gigs involved, I have hesitated to do that, as much as I probably should get that done for the ultimate safety of my data.


Again, those of us who are on limited bandwidth can’t store more and more in the cloud, which is why I use external hard drives. When I had Carbonite, I found I used up all my allotted bandwidth within 3 days and then had to “suffer” with dial-up speeds for the rest of the month. The only time I use the cloud is when I am transferring work from one computer to the other and don’t have a flash drive with me.
If I ever can afford more than my allotted 10 gigabytes per month, I may use the cloud more, but not now.


    Bravo, Michael. That fact needs to be brought up every time someone gives one of these glowing accounts of how wonderful (a word Trump extremely overuses) the cloud is. And what will happen to the Internet access and the online storage when the next World War destroys all the infrastructure? Of course, you can say that if that happens, we all have many more problems than accessing online data.


With all due respect I disagree with your statement that digital storage is safer than paper. Digital storage is tenuous – subject to changes in format, the internet, ISPs, degradation of media, etc. My cloud backup service had a problem yesterday with the server that had my data on it. They had no idea when the server would be available (possibly never?). I could not access it for hours. As for paper it has its risks also, but they are minimal compared to digital storage and those risks are primarily in my control, i.e., keep them dry, cool, proper humidity, away from fire and light. I have letters from the 1800’s (books from the 1700’s) – they show aging, but I still have them.


    —> Digital storage is tenuous – subject to changes in format, the internet, ISPs, degradation of media, etc.

    Any experienced IT professional will point out that data centers have been saving digital documents now for more than 50 years. The present plans will probably last for several hundred more years. You can do the same thing at home.

    The one thing that is different between digital and paper-based documents is that digital document5s cannot be left alone and ignored for decades. However, it is easy (and inexpensive) to update them to the latest formats every ten years or so. Just ask the U.S. government, insurance companies, hospitals, aircraft manufacturers, automobile manufacturers, and others. They have been doing that for 50+ years.

    Have you used the Social Security Death Index? That was first digitized in the early 1960s (on 80-column punch cards, no less!) and that information is still available to us today. That is data preservation at work.

    See my earlier article at https://blog.eogn.com/2015/02/18/our-present-history-could-be-lost-to-future-generations/ for more information about easily preserving digital information for centuries.


I have to agree with “G.” A number of years ago, I printed a record from Family Search. It contained the maiden name of my Moravian great great grandmother. When I went back to it years later, the great greats were no longer available. Using the printed copy I was able to further my research. In fact, I was able to get their daughter’s Marriage record from Nebraska that even they failed to have in their database.


Shirley J McMahan July 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm

I still save paper copies of my completed records on each family line I’ve worked on, also have given copies to my children (not the full files though). I like having paper to refer to but I also have everything saved to an outside source. I learned the hard way what it means to lose it all after a house fire took all of our belongings reducing them to ashes. As I was certain 15 years of research was gone I didn’t know if I wanted to start over or get a new “hobby”. When I got a new computer and started researching I found everything, in outline form that I had on Ancestry.com. Because I had previously synched my work from another program to Ancestry it gave me the start I needed and I have continued on with it. I must admit what was once a hobby is now an obsession and I have to get my “fix” every day or I am whacked out of my mind !t was impressed on my mind to back up frequently early on, now my outside source does it automatically.


David Paul Davenport July 22, 2017 at 12:40 pm

I am not connected to the Internet on my home computer, so I can’t back up anything to a cloud. Earlier this week, when I reached storage capacity on a Toshiba 250 gig external hard drive, I bought a 1 Terrabyte hard drive at Office Max for $60. Amazing to me that a device the size of a smart phone can store so much. Seldom use paper anymore for anything. Saving as a pdf allows “zoom” to read “fine print.”


Clouds dissipate, like vapor, and cannot be relied on. Remember what happened to Geocities?


    You are correct.

    If you have been reading my articles on making backups, you will note that I always recommend not depending upon any one backup. Hard drives in your computer will fail. External hard drives sitting next to your computer will fail or perhaps both your computer and your external hard drive will be destroyed by fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or a burst water pipe in your house. Paper is fragile and history has shown that paper is often destroyed by mold, mildew, insect damage, fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or a burst water pipe.

    Various file storage services in the cloud will disappear from time to time because of bankruptcies or because they were bought out by some other corporation that does not care to continue that one line of business.


    Instead, make multiple backup copies and SAVE THEM IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS!

    Make a backup to an external hard drive next to your computer AND make backups to two or more file storage services in the cloud AND make a backup to keep in a desk drawer at the office AND make a backup to your laptop computer AND make a backup that you will store in a relative’s house AND make a backup to paper (if that is practical). You might lose one of those backups someday in the same manner that thousands of people lost things on Geocities. However, anyone who has multiple backups stored in multiple locations will find that such losses are a minor inconvenience, not a disaster.

    Professional data centers have been practicing this philosophy for 50+ years. Do you think the US military or the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service would ever depend upon only one backup, stored at one location?

    How much is your data worth to you?


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