Data X-plosion!


About 5 126 years ago, the Mayans created a sophisticated set of calendars to help them plant crops, organise religious ceremonies and track their history. It was their “outlook’ with complex calculations to help them plan their lives ahead. It could be said that the Mayan Long Count Calendar was the beginning of the data era.
Multiples of data bytes are measured in kilobyte (103), megabyte (106), gigabyte (109), terabyte (1012), petabyte (1015), exabyte (1018), zetabyte (1021)…and beyond.

In 2006 the calculated outcome from a project conducted at the UC Berkeley School of Information claimed that “all words ever spoken by human beings’ could be stored as about five exabytes of data, or 5 073 741 824 gigabytes using the analogous power of 1 024 bytes. In 2007 the world’s data storage capacity was estimated at 295 exabytes of information.

2011 saw 1.8 zetabytes of new digital information created around the globe. One zetabyte is a trillion gigabytes. Last year we saw the annual growth of information increasing by 59%, a watershed year and a sign of things to come.
Daily trends followed from the beginning of the year estimated that 1 petabyte of new information is being produced every 15 seconds. People share 65 exabytes of information through two-way communications technology such as cellphones. In non-digital terms, every person in the world would need to read six newspapers every day to match that amount.

Television broadcasts saw around two zetabytes of transient (not stored) data drifting through the airwaves. The conversion from analogue-to-digital television broadcasting is well underway, creating new business opportunities for broadcast equipment manufacturers, as well as television broadcasters and broadband service providers.

The availability of digital high definition (HD) content is rapidly increasing and the number of HD channels available to the consumer is proliferating. HD and 3D-capable TV sets continually set new sales records. In addition, new ways to distribute content, such as Internet protocol television (IPTV) and mobile TV, are rapidly evolving and deploying, creating further growth in the generation of data.

It’s no surprise that the television industry fears losing its traditional monopoly on the dissemination of information to the increasing number of gadgets available. The almost insatiable appetite for video from sources such as YouTube and Netflix has created a surge in global data traffic, and the media industry has certainly added to the opening of the floodgates on data. In the next five years we could see these figures increase eight-fold or more!

Smart phones and tablets have also contributed to the data flurry not only through their capacity to download and view live content, but also thanks to accelerometers, sensors and GPS to upload information such as geographic location, motion and direction.

With a global population of seven billion people and growing, there are more than six billion mobile subscribers and growing and more than nine billion connected devices … and growing. Social media has made some significant contributions to the data flow; Facebook users are uploading more than 1 000 photographs a second, that’s three billion pictures per month. The amount of data that we as individuals are creating daily through social media is expected to double in the next 24 months. To put that in perspective, it would require 5.8 billion iPads to store the data that, socially, we will create…in just two years!

It is incredible to think that Google processes about 24 petabytes of data per day and global Internet traffic is estimated at 27 exabytes per month. These are daunting numbers considering that the producers of Avatar required only one petabyte of storage to make their 3D movie.

Storage rules
All these numbers surely mean a clear, steady growing market for storage as in hard and solid state drives and a really healthy market for cloud storage services because everyone finds it easier to dump all that stuff somewhere else.
It is estimated that by 2015 80% of all data will be stored in the cloud. Beyond the cloud, when the the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope is built the capacity for processing data is set at 10 petabytes per hour generating over an exabyte of data every day.

So if we are already measuring data in exabytes and zetabytes, it won’t be long before we’ll be planning our next upload in yottabytes and brontobytes and then we will have to invent a new word.

But then again if the Mayans were right with their calendar, we will be back at the beginning on the 21 December 2012 anyway as
Enough said – I had better stop there having added my 35 kilobytes worth!

By Ian Dormer
Screen Africa Magazine – February 2012


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