In a relatively humorous and sarcastic post, blogger Paul McNamara looks at a recent news release from EMC and attempts to understand, and help us understand, just how big a zettabyte is.

Here are three analogies from the EMC article:

  • “The digital information created by every man, woman and child on Earth ‘Tweeting’ continuously for 100 years.”
  • “75 billion fully-loaded 16 GB Apple iPads, which would fill the entire area of Wembley Stadium to the brim 41 times, the Mont Blanc Tunnel 84 times, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider tunnel 151 times, Beijing National Stadium 15.5 times or the Taipei 101 Tower 23 times.”
  • “A full-length episode of FOX TV’s hit series 24 running continuously for 125 million years.”

As McNamara points out, these analogies are oftentimes outside the scope of what the normal human — even the normal IT person — can fully grasp. For example, the “tweeting” example requires the knowledge of how many humans there are in the world (which sources can’t seem to agree on) and some fairly fuzzy math, since the unit of time is 100 years.

Beyond the analogies, the EMC article outlines the fact that humans created 800 billion gigabytes (800 million terabytes, 800,000 petabytes, 800 exabytes, or 0.8 zettabytes) in 2009 and, based on the growth of 62% over 2008’s data, posits that humans will create about 1.2 zettabytes in 2010. This number is just massive, especially considering most humans have never even seen a terabyte of data. Even the storage experts among us are only considering data storage in the dozens to hundreds of terabytes. When you add it all up — all the big companies, governments, healthcare institutions, big-budget CGI movies (Avatar) and the like — 800 million terabytes does not seem outstanding for the entire world’s storage.

Don’t plan on seeing petabyte hard drives any time soon, let alone zettabytes; some of the largest storage arrays are only holding about half of a petabyte. In addition, this count of 1.2 zettabytes is highly inflated; much of the world’s data (some say 75%) is copies. In truth, only 0.3 zettabytes of unique, new information will be created this year.

The report estimates that data creation will grow 44-fold by 2020, putting us well on our way toward yottabytes. Wrap your head around that, if you can.

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