infoTECH Feature

February 11, 2011

Global Data Storage Capacity Estimated at 295 Exabytes

With advances in technology driving the Internet traffic worldwide, the quest for data is only growing dramatically day-by-day. It is hard to fathom the amount of data generated and stored globally. But now researchers at the University of Southern California have given us some idea.

Tracking some 60 analog and digital technologies from 1986 to 2007, the researchers have estimated that the humankind has stored some 295 Exabytes by 2007.

Traditionally, computer storage has evolved from kilobytes to Megabytes, and now Gigabytes. Next in line is Terabyte to be followed by Petabytes and then Exabytes. In fact, Wikipedia takes us beyond Exabytes to the next level. That is Zettabyte (1021) and Yottabyte (1024). One Exabyte (1018) is equivalent of 1 million Terabytes or 1 billion Gigabytes.

The study published in journal Science estimates that in 2007 humankind was able to store 2.9 × 1020 optimally compressed bytes, communicate almost 2 × 1021 bytes, and carry out 6.4 × 1018 instructions per second on general-purpose computers.

Likewise, general-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58 percent, according to the researchers. While the world's capacity for bidirectional telecommunication grew at 28 percent per year, closely followed by the increase in globally stored information (23 percent).

The same study shows that humankind's capacity for unidirectional information diffusion through broadcasting channels has experienced comparatively modest annual growth at 6 percent. In this investigation, the researchers found that telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 (99.9 percent in digital format in 2007), and the majority of our technological memory has been in digital format since the early 2000. By 2007, 94 percent of data was stored in digital format.

In an interview given to International Business Times, lead author Martin Hilbert of the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism said, "Compared to nature, we are but humble apprentices. However, while the natural world is mind-boggling in its size, it remains fairly constant. In contrast, the world's technological information processing capacities are growing at exponential rates."


Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee
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