Hard drive storage has gone through the roof in recent years. Rotating hard drives that can hold 16 terabytes of data are essentially available today, although pricey, and 12 terabyte drives are commonplace. For those who remember when a single terabyte was a lot of storage, the idea that you can now pick up a drive of that size for under $40 is amazing. Bear in mind, we are talking terabytes.
In 1994, that was an unimaginable amount of storage. Just a scant 24 years ago, though, you could get 90 gigabytes — 0.09 terabytes — if you didn’t mind buying an IBM mainframe and a RAMAC disk storage unit. You can see a promotional video digitized by Archive.org, below. Just keep in mind that IBM has a long history of calling disk drives DASD — an acronym for Direct Access Storage Device. You pronounce that “dazz-dee”, as you’ll hear in the video.
IBM still has a product page for the device, which they stopped promoting in 1998 and stopped supporting in 2010. Amazing, actually, that the product had such a short lifespan. From the product page:
The RAMAC 2 Array Subsystem consists of a Array Controller that is populated with from two to sixteen B13 or B23 drawer arrays. Each B13 drawer has a capacity of 5.67 gigabytes (GB) and each B23 drawer with 3390-3 emulation has a capacity of 11.35 gigabytes (GB), thereby providing a range of capacities from 11.35 GB to 180 GB in a single, compact footprint. The new IBM ULTRASTAR* XP 3.5-inch SCSI disk drives in the RAMAC 2 Array Subsystem double the capacity of the previous RAMAC drawer, thereby providing outstanding improvement in the storage capability in a single rack.
The array controller can be configured as either a dual cluster controller or a quad cluster (2 cluster pairs) controller thereby providing options for performance tailoring and/or intermix of DASD volume emulation modes. Options for controller cache sizes range from 64 megabytes (MB) to 2 GB. Cache memory is also resident in the drawer.
Each drawer was stuffed with 2 GB SCSI disks. Granted, it was arranged as RAID 5, and we are sure the I/O bandwidth to the controller was high. Still, it is amusing that they hoped to impress you by telling you that you could now fit 180 GB of storage in only 15.8 square feet! The power requirements were significant, too.
For all of that, articles from the time indicate performance wasn’t that great, and there was a limit on at least some of the controllers of 180 GB, even as larger drives became available. Since many IBM installations were leased and hardware sold at various prices, it is hard to peg down exactly what one of these beasts cost. But it is a good bet that a stripped down version was no less than $20,000 — which would be a lot more adjusted for inflation.
If you’ve got a thing for old IBM hardware, you might enjoy some of the posts we’ve covered about the IBM 1401 at The Computer History Museum. Or, if you want something closer to the RAMAC’s time period, you can always play games on an AS/400.