If you’re roughly the same age as me, you might remember buying a laptop in the 2000s that came with around 40GB of data. ‘Wow, that’s a LOT of storage!’ we all thought at the time.
Now, even the most basic smartphone comes with around 30GB of data storage, while a top-of-the-range iPhone has more than 500GB.
But the days of being impressed by gigabytes are long gone. As the amount of data in the world has increased exponentially, we’ve had to come up with new, unfamiliar words to describe data in numerical form. So long, gigabytes. These days, we’re talking terabytes, petabytes, exabytes and zettabytes.
You lost me at petabyte…
A terabyte is just over 1,000 gigabytes, and is a label most of us are familiar with from our home computers.
Scaling up from there, a petabyte is just over 1,000 terabytes. That may be far beyond the kind of data storage the average person needs, but industry has been dealing with data in these sorts of quantities for quite some time. In fact, way back in 2008, Google was said to process around 20 petabytes of data a day (Google doesn’t release information on how much data it processes today). To put that in context, if you took all of the information from all US academic research libraries and lumped it all together, it would add up to 2 petabytes.
Scaling up again, you have exabytes (roughly 1,000 petabytes) and zettabytes (a little over 1,000 exabytes). At this stage, it becomes hard to comprehend what any of this means in real terms. Try this: according to a Cisco estimate, the world’s collective internet usage reached one zettabyte in 2016. That’s a lot of cat videos being viewed!
So, as the world’s data has grown, we’re now talking about data in terms of zettabytes.
How many zettabytes have been created so far?
According to market intelligence company IDC, the ‘Global Datasphere’ in 2018 reached 18 zettabytes. This is the total of all data created, captured or replicated. (Not all of this data is being stored and kept, though.)
The vast majority of the world’s data has been created in the last few years and this astonishing growth of data shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, IDC predicts the world’s data will grow to 175 zettabytes in 2025.
Let’s dwell on that for a second: 175 zettabytes. What does that even mean? According to IDC’s ‘Data Age 2025’ paper:
- If you were to store 175 zettabytes on DVDs, your stack of DVDs would be long enough to circle Earth 222 times.
- If you attempted to download 175 zettabytes at the average current internet connection speed, it would take you 1.8 billion years to download. Even if you enlisted every person in the world to help with the download, it would still take 81 days.
Where is all this data coming from?
It’s mind-boggling to think that humans are creating so much data. Or is it? Think of how much data you’re generating in an average day. Every interaction with your computer or phone creates data. Every interaction on social media creates data. Every time you walk down the street with a phone in your pocket, it’s tracking your location through GPS sensors – more data. Every time you buy something with your contactless debit card? Data. Every time you read an article online? Data. Every time you stream a song, movie or podcast? Data, data, data.
As an example, let’s look at social media usage in 2018. In just one minute:
- Twitter users sent 473,400 tweets
- Snapchat users shared 2 million photos
- Instagram users posted 49,380 pictures
- LinkedIn gained 120 new users
In short, all of the world’s data is the result of our increasingly digitised way of life. The connectivity of modern smart devices – not just smart phones, but smart TVs, smart thermostats and so on – also plays a huge role. These devices are constantly gathering and transmitting data.
Other mind-blowing data stats include:
- Google processes more than 40,000 searches every second, or 3.5 billion searches a day.
- 1.5 billion people are active on Facebook every day. That’s one-fifth of the world’s population.
- Two-thirds of the world’s population now own a mobile phone.
When you look at stats like these, it’s not hard to see how the world’s data has exploded in recent years and will continue to grow at an incredible rate. Whether we’ll hit that vast number of 175 zettabytes in 2025 remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll be generating a heck of a lot more data than we already are.
Where to go from here
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