Thursday, 9 August 2012

What comes after a terabyte?

I'm pretty sure most people are familiar with kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and even terabytes as they become more common. A terabyte is probably the largest unit of information known to most people, for example I have just over 2 terabytes of storage space on my home pc. That's enough for 2000 songs, 400 high definition movies and roughly 4000 episodes of various tv shows. To be honest I have more digital media than I could ever have time to watch, just the movies and tv shows alone would take 220 days to watch if I only took breaks to eat and sleep. For the average consumer two terabytes of storage space on a home pc is going to be more than enough, most of the space will likely never be used. However, what comes after a terabyte?

That honour falls to a petabyte, followed an exabyte, zettabyte and finally the largest unit we've named, a yottabyte.

I've already explained how much data you can store on 2 terabytes, a petabyte is a thousand times larger than one terabyte. It's pretty big, so big that you could store every single piece of data used to render the 3D CGI effects for Avatar. Interestingly the human brain's ability to store memories is roughly the equivalent of 2.5 petabytes of binary data.

As you can see a petabyte is pretty big, so how much bigger is an exabyte, zettabyte or yottabyte?

An exabyte for example (a thousand times larger than a petabyte) is roughly the amount of traffic that passes through the entire internet on a daily basis and 5 exabytes are enough write down all the words ever spoken by humans.

A zettabyte is unimaginably large, it's a thousand times bigger than an exabyte and the amount of information a few zettabytes can hold is truly mindbogglingly. Roughly half a zettabyte is enough to hold the entire internet and as of January 2012 no storage system has achieved one zettabyte of information. A zetabyte is so large that if you had just 42 available you could store all human speech ever spoken.

Finally a yotabyte, or a quadrillion gigabytes is so large than no storage system has even achieved one thousandth of a yotabyte. In fact the internet combined with every hard drive in existence wouldn't even be a thousandth of a yotabyte. There is no doubt in my mind that one day a yotabyte storage device will be created, however it's likely we'll create one before we've generated enough digital media to fill one.    

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