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Zettabytes and Beyond

By Steve Jones,

The old Carl Sagan quote about billions and billions of stars in the universe doesn't seem so large anymore. In fact, a billion of anything, while a large number, seems immense only until we talk about the scale of data. How much data is there in the world? I'm not sure. As I was researching this for a new presentation, I'm not sure I can even conceive of the scale of data creation occurring in the world today, much less how much data we have.

Think back 30 years ago, as computers were just starting to become household items. The high density floppy disk (not really very floppy) was a 1.44MB disk. At the time, this held what felt like lots of data in terms of text pages. However many songs we listen to today wouldn't fit on this media. As we've progressed through CDs and DVDs to flash drives, we've grown the storage capacity of our hardware by unbelievable amounts. My phone has 64GB of storage, which is a level of growth so far removed from the Apollo guidance computer's 2kb that comparisons don't do it justice.

We used to create data storage analogies by listing the number of books that would fit on the device. Today that's meaningless. The 30,000 ebooks on Bookworm fit in 20GB. That's a number of books that's hard to conceive of. My local library branch has about 20,000 books, so I can somewhat grasp that scale, but not really. Two libraries worth of books is a level of words and knowledge that I'm not sure I appreciate. Trying to understand the amount of storage a library like the Vatican needs, is beyond comprehension.

The grasp of how much digital data we create is even more mind boggling. I saw a talk recently that said 24 hours worth of digital video is being uploaded to YouTube every second. Every second. That's an impressive statistic, but I'm not sure we can even comprehend what that means. An even more daunting statistic is that all the knowledge recorded from the Gutenberg printing press invention through the next 500 years totaled about 1 exabyte. At current rates, we create an exabyte of digital data in less than a month and that's only going to increase. If you read some of the analogies in this report from EMC, they're almost silly, and certainly not something most of us can relate to. I certainly can't picture 75 billion iPads.

These days the amount of data we are dealing with is growing faster than ever, and that means it's a good time to be in the data business. From "Big Data" to data warehousing to the common OLTP databases we manage, there is no shortage of bits and bytes we will get the chance to manage. For pay.

Steve Jones


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