Terabytes to zettabytes: The world’s data

Brid-Aine Parnell

Sunday 11 October 2015

Big data is an understatement – since the dawn of the internet, on a worldwide scale, massively huge data would be a more apt expression for the explosion in information.

Since data first went from analogue to digital, it has seen explosive growth. Kickstarted by the internet, propelled by the proliferation of mobile devices and due to jump even higher with the advent of the Internet of Things, talk of the world’s data has gone from terabytes (1,000 gigabytes) to zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) in a very short period of time.

A study by scientists at the University of Southern California, published in Science magazine in 2011, illustrated the influence of the internet. The researchers found that human beings had stored more than 295 billion gigabytes (or 295 exabytes) of data since 1986, with digital storage capacity overtaking analogue capacity in 2002.

“If a single star is a bit of information, there’s a galaxy of information for every person in the world,” the paper said. “But it’s still less than one per cent of the information stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being.”

That turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. In 2013, research firm SINTEF estimated that 90 per cent of the world’s data had been generated in the previous two years. Social networks, digital cameras, mobile devices and the internet had combined to give rise to Big Data. And growth has not slowed down since.

Most of that data is transient  unsaved Netflix movies, temporary routing information in networks and so on. But a good deal of it of it has to be stored somewhere. While seven of the top ten largest data centres in the world are in the US, the ninth biggest is in Wales and the seventh is in Bangalore, India.

Fittingly, given that IDC expects the division of data to flip from 60 per cent from mature markets to 60 per cent from emerging markets by 2020, the world’s largest data centre is about to lose the top spot to a new centre in Langfang, China. The Range International Information Group, due to be completed next year, will cover an area of 6,300,000 sqft, nearly twice that of Switch SuperNAP in Nevada.

Return to the Data centre theme page to learn more about managing your data securely and building a comprehensive server infrastructure.