Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's a zettabyte?

There's a certain fascination in extremely large numbers. Children often invent their own vocabulary for numbers higher than a billion; I remember using zillion for example. The world of computing is teaching us to use all sorts of new prefixes to describe the vast amount of information in the world today. I remember when a megabyte of information was considered a lot but now we talk more in terms of gigabytes and terabytes.

So I enjoyed reading an article in the Guardian, Goodbye petabytes, hello zettabytes, stating that the total amount of digital information in the world today is fast approaching the zettabyte level and is set to reach 1.2 ZB by the end of the year. In case you wondered, a zettabyte is a million million gigabytes or the equivalent of 75 billion iPads. Once you get up to these levels you lose track of how many zeroes there are. If you enjoy mind-numbing number crunching have a look at a couple of entries in Wikipedia: the biggest number of all, the Googolplex and the names of large numbers

The trouble is that this vast amount of information is largely unstructured and impossible to retrieve despite the growth of Google. Our texts, photos, films and music are stored on servers, own computers, CDs, DVDs and memory sticks and most of us hardly even bother to label them. Just imagine a famous tourist attraction like the Eiffel Tower. How many photos of it are taken per day every day, every year? Just watch the camera flashes in the crowd at say the opening ceremony of the Olympic games and imagine that each member of the 80,000 crowd took at least 100 photos per person. Where are we going to store all this in the future and more importantly should we even try to store it all? Who decides what to save? There must be plenty scope for some serious spring cleaning on the web. How many identical photos of the Eiffel Tower does the world need?

Photo: by Anne Helmond on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND

No comments:

Post a Comment