Thursday, June 21, 2018
Publication Date: 03/1/2010
Archive >  March 2010 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

YottaBytes Anyone?
Walter Salm, Editor
The other day, I was looking over some material that had appeared in my e-mail box and was dumbfounded by an abbreviation on a chart. It was "ZB" and I had no idea what it meant. So I Googled it and got an education, and in fact was amazed by some of the factoids that I unearthed. The ZB referred to "ZettaBytes", an incredibly enormous quantity, and has only recently been reached or grasped by humankind.

For comparison, let's start with a kilobyte, 1kB = 1,000 Bytes. Okay, that's easy. Then comes the MegaByte of 1,000,000 bytes or 1,000kB. Next we go to GB, or 1,000MB, followed by TB (TeraByte) or 1,000GB. My somewhat recently upgraded desktop computer contains a half-TeraByte (500GB) hard disk, and it's still about 70 percent unused. I carry all of U.S. Tech material — photos, text, working files, e-mails for about 3 issues on a USB dongle that has a capacity of 8GB. It also contains numerous reference files, directories full of personal information, and I still have 6GB of unused storage on this wondrous tiny mass storage device.

The next step up from a TeraByte is the PetaByte, or 1,000TB. After that comes the ExaByte of 1,000PB or 1,000,000TB. If your head hasn't started to spin just yet, we have now arrived at the ZettaByte, or 1,000EB, and finally — and are you ready for this — there's the YottaByte or 1,000ZB.

Now here are some comparisons gleaned from the Internet. The entire written works of humankind, from the beginning of recorded history in all languages, would consume 50 PetaBytes, or 50,000 TeraBytes. That is not to say that we haven't already amassed much more, since photos with any amount of resolution take up huge amounts of digital storage. Here's another: AT&T has about 16 PetaBytes of data transferred through its networks each day.The Internet archive contained about 2PB of data a year ago, and was growing at an estimated rate of about 100TB per month. That would make it about 4.2PB by March of 2010 — provided that the 100TB per month figure has held true, which is not very likely.

Our hunger for data and for storage is ravenous. According to an IDC paper, the total amount of digital data generated worldwide is 0.988 ZettaBytes per year and growing quickly. One enterprising soul said that the storage needs of all human speech ever spoken would amount to 42ZB, digitized as 16kHz 16-bit audio.

We can't even get a good feel for how much physical space would be required to meet these storage needs. In 1966, 32kB of storage on magnetic bead matrices occupied a good sized room next to the computer mainframe; today that room would probably hold many ZettaBytes, given the ever-shrinking size of our digital storage media technology. Just how many ZettaBytes would fit in that room still remains to be seen. And that room keeps getting smaller. Keep tuned; tomorrow we're likely to go to Yotta. Bytes.  

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