File Servers Are Going the Way of the Floppy

When’s the last time you used a floppy disk? Hell, when’s the last time you thought of one?

If this seems like a ridiculous set of questions—asking when you last spent time or energy on a technology that’s been considered obsolete for nearly twenty years—people in the 80s and 90s would disagree. After all, for twenty years floppies were everywhere: computers themselves were engineered to depend on floppy disks. After their arrival on the scene in the 1960s (invented by Alan Shugart in 1967, specifically), floppies enjoyed an increasing amount of popularity in both technology and culture, especially after the original 8-inch version of the disk evolved into the 5.25-inch version in 1981, when it became the standard for IBM’s revolutionary personal computer. Even as the size and format of the disk changed in the mid-80s, floppy disks remained the standard for storage, transferring data, and booting systems and applications. They were everywhere.

And then they weren’t. Nowadays, you’re unlikely to see a floppy disk anywhere besides a 90s nostalgia listicle or the “save” icon on the taskbar of your word document. The current irrelevance of floppy disks is such a running joke that the internet has often laughed at the struggle of younger generations such as millennials trying to explain what one actually is. Their seat at the table was taken by rewriteable CDs and disc drives (and the short-lived zip drive), which offered more storage for better prices (high capacity floppy technology was extremely expensive). As the industry current turned more towards CD-RW and hard disc technologies, the space for floppies became smaller and smaller. Though not “declared dead” until 2010, the technology was barely a shadow for most of its last decade of use.

So, what’s the point? That’s nothing that’s gold can stay? That technology moves ever forward? Interestingly, it seems for many the lesson of the floppy disk, and its sudden dismount from the peak of consumer technology and near-universal file transfer format, has been lost–or at least ignored when it comes to other technologies that are beginning to show their age, beginning to be replaced.

On-premises file servers might be the best current example of this phenomenon: technology clearly on its way out, that so many refuse to abandon. File servers do their job and have for decades. So why are people abandoning them?

File servers have an illustrious history just like the floppy drive. They were essential in creating the internet, in putting men in space. Anyone with any interest in computers or computing history has probably seen old photographs of what servers used to look like, how many it used to take to store information required to do even the simplest task. With the introduction of personal computers and personal hard drives, servers were no longer defined by their bulkiness. Now they were defined by their convenience. You could have a server for your own computer.

In businesses, on the other hand, file servers became the go-to means for storing files on a network, in a centrally managed location, so that everyone on the network could access what they needed. It became a powerful and secure central hub for all of an organization’s data.

But, as that data grew and ideas about data storage led to the inception of what we know as the cloud, once again, that which previously seemed like the height of convenience is currently seem by many individuals and organizations alike as a hassle, a detriment.

Right now, as more and more organizations realize the stunningly immense benefits of cloud collaboration and storage platforms–such as Microsoft’s SharePoint Online, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and Egnyte—the number who are willing to settle for on-premises file servers is smaller and smaller. More enterprises are opting for migration over stagnation, and they’re absolutely right to.

Compared to cloud storage platforms, on-premises servers can be unreliable. Their scope is limited, and what they lack in immediate space, they quickly make up for in the exorbitant cost of buying more servers to expand your organization’s storage capacity. It seems these towers are actually better at storing costs then files, with the hidden price of frequent maintenance issues that require constant time and energy from IT–and constant money from your organization’s wallet—all of which could be put to better use elsewhere. File servers offer a comfortable familiar storage format, sure, but ultimately, they’re a drain on innovation, and will only become more so as time moves on, and the amount of data in the world continues to grow exponentially.

As cloud providers develop new and powerful apps and capabilities to store, share, protect, and process data—tools to analyze and shape data through machine learning, and facilitate its best use through powerful collaborative spaces and structures—on-premises file servers will continue to do, well, just the stuff they do now. If anything, they’ll become less efficient in doing so, leaving businesses hogtied to those blinking, often-overheating towers.

File servers, like the floppy disk, have worn out their usefulness, pushed increasingly to the side by technology that’s simply better at doing the job. Organizations can cling to a technology that will eventually abandon them when it’s completely phased out, or they can look to the future, and discover what new and better options await them. T. The flexibility of the cloud assures that businesses can find solutions that fit their needs to a degree that their current set-up simply cannot. The possibilities and adaptability are near endless with the cloud. With file servers, that adaptability begins and ends with how many a company wants, and which room they want them stored in.

Sooner or later, though, that room will be called something different if it continues on housing those servers: a museum.