NovaBACKUP Security Blog

The Evolution of Backup


At its core, backup has always been simply a method for returning to a prior state of productivity following an incident that has corrupted, deleted, encrypted, or otherwise separated us from our critical data. It's not this concept that has changed so much over the years. It's actually the massive technology advancements we've seen in the transmission, handling, and storage of data (not to mention the variety and quantity of it) which has made the greatest impact on how we think of the humble backup today.

The Early Days

Old Backup Tape DriveSure, we can talk about handwritten copies of code, but the first real instances of modern data backup as we know it, started with the mainframes of the 1950's. Highly manual, labor-intensive work, moving data between physically large, slow, and expensive storage mediums. 

Engineers at this time had to develop their own standards and methods for restoring backups. The basic concepts of creating multiple copies, which were carried out on a regular schedule, checking the integrity of backups, and documenting procedures were created. It seems basic by today's standards but the practices and protocols developed at this time would lay the foundation for the strategies of today.

Types of Data Storage: Magnetic Tape, Punch Cards, Paper Tape, Magnetic Drums
Original Method: Physical Duplication

One of the earliest known instances of a backup was performed in 1951 by J.W. Forrester and Robert Everett at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They developed a system to create duplicate magnetic tapes of their Whirlwind (a Cold War-era vacuum tube computer) system data, creating one of the first known computer backups.


Floppy Disks: The Digital Revolution

Vintage News Ad for Backup Medium

The 1960's and 1970's arrived, ushering in the space age, and with it a leap in the amount of data generated & stored by the government, helping to launch us into a digital revolution. The new era of magnetic disks and early storage systems reduced the time-consuming processes and made backup more reliable for businesses. Hard disks were a game-changer in that we saw fast, direct access to data through those lovely magnetic spinning platters. The iconic floppy disk, made its debut, providing greater convenience, capacity, and of course mobility. The relative low cost of tape drives made tape the medium of choice for large datasets, given their high capacity and long-term durability.

It was at this time that computer scientists and engineers began to formalize backup procedures, introducing wild new concepts like versioning, and disaster recovery planning. We saw a shift towards automation for the first time, a monumental step forward in the history of backup.

New Types of Data Storage: Hard Disk Drives (HDD), Floppy Disks, Magnetic Tape Drives
New Methods: Backup Software, Manual and Automatic Backup, Disaster Recovery

The first commercial backup software was probably a program called "DISC" (Disk Copy), developed by Digital Communications Associates (DCA). DISC was considered a pioneer in backup software solutions for mainframes, introduced in the early 1970's. DISC introduced users to features like disk-to-disk backups, backup scheduling, incremental backups, and selective file restore. 


Personal Computers and Networks

Backup CDAs software evolved in the 1980's and 1990's, automation continued to improve for backup. A jump in the miniaturization of drives created the environment for personal computers to finally become a reality for many of us. The widespread adoption of the PC meant that personal data was being generated at unprecedented rate and amount, from documents, and spreadsheets, to databases, and multimedia files. This in itself created a strong demand for data backup solutions to protect personal content. Consumers were writing to new types of media like CD's and Optical Disks, and consequently creating millions of coasters from their failed disk media. Ahh, the good old days.

As PC's started being connected together in local area networks (LANs), and later the internet, the need for network-based backup solutions was realized. The environment was perfect for the creation of centrally managed backup. New network backup software introduced methods like differential, and incremental backups over the network, including encryption for the first time. We saw a standardization in backup protocols, such as Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP), for communication between backup servers and popular new storage devices such as NAS (Network Attached Storage).

New Types of Data Storage: CDs, DVDs, Optical Disks, Offsite Storage, NAS, WAN
New Methods: Differential & Incremental Network Backup, Centralized Backup, Encryption

DAT drives were originally designed for recording high-quality audio by Sony and Philips, and brought to the market in 1987, but they found an unexpected role in the world of data storage due to their affordability and storage capacities. They made a great option for small and medium-sized businesses looking to back up their critical data in the 1990's (as long as you didn't make the mistake of mixing your music tapes with your backup tapes).


The Information Age

y2kbugNewspaper fueling the hysteria.
Source: Curious Historian

By the time we hit the 2000's and 2010's, the digital information age had really reached its stride. The generation of data continued to explode, and the ability to analyze big data meant organizations could make key decisions based on it. On the business side we saw Virtual Tape Libraries (HDD's emulating tape) vastly improving transfer rates and fast access to backups. On the consumer side we saw NAS devices become affordable and used widely as a backup destination. The advent of Solid State Drives (SSD) meant faster access to data for the consumer, and reduced backup windows. Affordable Flash Drives brought new data mobility, and with it the potential for new threats.

Most importantly the global adoption of the Internet made the possibility of offsite backup more accessible and affordable. New online services started popping up, offering the ability to sync files to cloud locations, and we witnessed the birth of the first true Managed Service Providers. Continuous Data Protection (CDP) services started to emerge, offering near real-time capture of the changes to data. Businesses and workers embraced increasing freedom, and the role of mobile devices (and how to secure them) also came to the forefront.

New Types of Data Storage: Virtual Tape Libraries, SSD, Flash Drives, Flash Storage Arrays
New Methods: Disk-to-disk (D2D) Backup, Continuous Data Protection (CDP), VM Backup

NovaBACKUP actually released the first Windows cloud backup solution (then called NovaNet Web) in 1995. Since then, it has evolved into a secure solution that combines local and cloud backup in a single application focused on Managed Service Providers that want to offer Backup-as-a-Service or organizations that want to protect their distributed network.


Backup Today

Modern BackupToday we see that the cloud has become an integral tool in data security, offering flexible access and scalability to protect against data events such as hardware failures, local disasters, and ransomware attacks. Both individuals and organizations can take advantage of low-cost local storage, while also embracing the convenience and flexibility of cloud storage. Today's backup solutions have evolved to seamlessly protect data across multiple cloud environments in addition to on-site storage infrastructure, and are designed to help organizations meet new regulatory compliance requirements to ensure that sensitive data is protected and retained in accordance with the latest data privacy regulations. Regarding access to backups, a Zero Trust security approach is often taken, requiring continuous authentication and authorization. Some backup solutions have even introduced immutability features, preventing backups from being altered or deleted to safeguard them from external tampering.

Highly focused backup solutions like NovaBACKUP have made it relatively easy to back up critical data, including unlimited local backup, built-in cloud backup capabilities, and even the option to add a (NAS-based) backup appliance.

New Types of Data Storage: Secure Cloud Storage, Object storage (Amazon S3, Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud)
New Methods: Hybrid Backup, Immutable Backups, Backup Appliances

Looking forward: Automation and AI

AI will take on new time-consuming tasks, such as helping to analyze data to identify and separate critical from less important files, making prioritization much easier. It will also help make backups more efficient, reducing the amount of storage needed. We can also imagine AI helping to make backup schedules more dynamic, initiating backup jobs when there's a sudden increase in volume or other important triggers.

Automation will continue to improve, further streamlining backup processes and leaving less open to the likelihood of human error.


The ability to promise recoverability when you need it most has always been a moving target. As technologies and threats rapidly evolve, so must our data protection strategies and practices. Understanding the evolution of backup and related processes helps us make informed decisions and, most importantly, anticipate and adapt to new technology trends.

The river of history sweeps us along, and it is our duty to swim.
- Winston Churchill

If you'd like to learn more about NovaBACKUP, our team of backup experts is available to consult with you one-on-one, offering helpful backup strategy tips. Request a call today. 

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