The Storage Effect

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A gegobyte hard drive would cover the earth 23,000,000 times


Image Source: The Joy of Tech

In the era of cloud, big data, smartphones and tablets, we’ve become used to talking petabytes, exabytes, even zettabytes.   Given how fast data is growing, what comes after zettabytes?  GigaOM raised this same question in their post “As data gets bigger, what comes after a yottabyte?”

The answer: Brontobyte & Gegobyte

Here is a fun experiment. Instead of talking about the number of hard drives it takes to accomodate such demand for storage, what if we thought about it in terms of physical size given today’s areal density capabilities.

If today’s 4 terabyte 3.5-inch drive is roughly .16 square feet, you can get approximately 24 terabytes per square foot. That’s .0046 square miles of land mass per 4 terabytes. Assuming 1 terabyte per disk was the maximum areal density, and hard drives will not get any thicker than 1 inch:

  • An exabyte hard drive would be about the size of Connecticut
  • A zettabyte hard drive would be about the size of Antarctica
  • A yottabyte hard drive would cover the earth 23 times
  • A brontobyte hard drive would cover the earth 23,000 times
  • A gegobyte hard drive would cover the earth 23,000,000 times

Many of us have a hard enough time wrapping our heads around a zettabyte, much less a yottabyte, brontobyte, or gegobyte. A terabyte is still a large amount of space for most consumers, and it conveniently comes in a relatively small package. Heck, most consumer devices are still measured in gigabytes.

When we buy that terabyte external drive for backup or simply additional storage, obviously we think it’s more than enough, and the physical size it just about right.

But, for a world of increasingly connected devices (the internet of things), where data analytics (big data) is increasingly what businesses rely on to carve the corporate path to success (or failure – depending on the data interpretation), the “bytes”  gap between consumer and corporation is widening.

We’re already talking in zettabytes.  According to the GigaOM post, “Cisco estimates we’ll see a 1.3 zettabytes of traffic annually over the internet in 2016,”  and Seagate estimates suggest total storage capacity demand will reach 7 zettabytes in 2020.

The decade we are (2010 to 2020) will take us from from talking exabytes to talking zettabytes. The question being,  how soon will we be talking yottabytes, or even brontobyte, dare I say gegobytes?

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  • [...] refers to “gegobyte” for the figure, as does Seagate in a blog posting riffing on the GigaOm [...]

  • Wrong. Please don’t mislead the innocent just to get a shocking headline. You yourselves said 4 terabytes can now be held on a 0.16 square foot disk (which is NOT at all the same as the 0.0046 square miles you subsequently threw in). Your disk spec means that 4/0.16=25 terabytes can be held on 1.0 square foot. There are of course 5280 feet in a mile and so 5280^2 square feet in a square mile so a square mile of disk space can hold nearly 700 exabytes (do the arithmetic, 25*5280*5280/1E06). A disk the size of Connecticut (5,544 square miles) would hold nearly 4 million exabytes not the one(1) you calculated. Now you may calculate the area needed for a zettabyte and for a yottabyte etc. And that’s land area not mass.

    My conclusions using your visualization: an exabyte hard disk would cover just over an acre and even a yottabyte hard disk would cover just about a quarter of Connecticut (still big but not “…the earth 23 times”)

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