Enter the age of the petabyte, exabyte and zettabyte

As internet consumers we’re now firmly in the age of the terabyte. A terabyte (TB) is equal to about one thousand gigabytes, and it is storage space sorely needed in the age of High Definition (HD) video.

Hard drives that have capacities of 1TB and 2TB or more are common-place in electronic shops. About ten years ago it was rare to hear the term terabyte, except perhaps in a science-fiction context or you were trying to (mistakenly) impress your geek girlfriend or boyfriend.

But how long will it be till we are throwing the term “petabyte” around as easily? A petabyte is the next notch up in the measurement of digital storage, and represents about a thousand terabytes. In large companies where a huge amount of storage is needed for supercomputer processing, a petabyte is not an uncommon term to hear.

The 2009 movie Avatar is reported to have taken more than one petabyte of local storage for rendering of the movie’s well-known 3D CGI effects. The popular online multiplayer game, World of Warcraft, utilises 1.3 petabytes of storage to maintain the game. The famous Internet Archive, which keeps a record of websites since the start of the web, claims to store about three petabytes of data, and in 2009 was growing at a rate of about 100 terabytes per month. The four experiments in the Large Hadron Collider will produce about 15 petabytes of data per year. And Google apparently processes as much as 24 petabytes of data daily.

In case you’re wondering, after the petabyte comes exabyte, zettabyte and then the old family favourite, the yottabyte. But it’s going to take a really long time before you’re asking your mate: “So how many yottabytes have you got in your hard drive?”

As of 2010, no storage system has even achieved one zettabyte of information. The combined space of all computer hard drives in the world do not amount to one yottabyte, but was estimated at approximately 160 exabytes in 2006. As of 2009, the entire Internet was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes… so we’re getting there.

The infographic below helps put it all into perspective: One single petabyte is equal to 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text. It’s also equal to 13.3 years of HD-TV video.

About 1.5 petabytes is equal to the size of 10 billion photos on Facebook. The total manufactured hardrive space in 1995 was equal to about 20 petabytes. According to the infographic, fifty petabytes is then apparently equal to the entire written collection of work by all of mankind (in all languages) since the dawn of civilization.

Credit and credit.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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