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I've never really understood what this icon, that looks like an oil drum

Database icon, from The Noun Project

and is commonly used to refer to a database, is actually supposed to represent.

What is it?

As a matter of fact, I've been searching for any kind of reading material about the history of the symbols commonly used in web app icons and haven't come up with anything helpful or interesting. Is there a good resource to read up on that?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It represents a stack of hard disks. For example, from wikipedia:

"RAID diagram icon symbolizing the array of disks"

enter image description here

Yes, this is talking about hard disks but the basic concept is the same.

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Thanks. I'm still not clear on what/why it is what it is, but at least I get there's some kind of real world thing being referred to. – goldenapples Jan 12 '13 at 5:53
Nothing to do with RAID. The depiction goes way further back than the emergence of RAID. Well back into at least the early eighties of last century and probably even further. – Marjan Venema Jan 12 '13 at 8:15
@MarjanVenema yeah I know but it was the most relevant visual I could find that made the point – jlarson Jan 12 '13 at 19:11

Historical reasons. It's just a simplified depiction of an actual hard disk. Remember that a single hard drive is actually made up of a stack of flat disks with the read/write heads in between the disks. A simpler depiction would be just a cylinder without the horizontal bands.

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It is a picture of a "disk pack" which is a stack of platters (usually 14 inch diameter) in a removable set. The original hard drives were the size of a washing machine, and had these swap-able packs. They had a clear plastic cover with a handle in the center, much like a cake carrier. You plopped it on to the drive, turned the handle to remove the cover, and then closed a door over the pack to enable the drive.

Amazing that people no longer know what they looked like. I made a clock where the dial was one of these big platters on which the head had crashed, leaving concentric marks in the orange surface (iron oxide). Of course, I had to be different, so I used a 168 hour motor and the "clock" showed the days of the week. Those synchronous motors are probably long gone also. They used to run all the stop lights.

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