Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

Nov 15 2012   8:10PM GMT

Exabyte, Zettabyte, Yottabyte…Then What? Opinions Vary

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher


When I first started this blog almost two years ago, I called it “yottabytes” because that was the term commonly accepted for the biggest size of storage (1000^8, or a 10 followed by 24 zeroes, compared with, say, 1000^4 for a terabyte). But as people are actually starting to refer to petabytes (1000^5) and exabytes (1000^6) of storage, there’s starting to be more discussion of what comes next.

No, I’m not changing the name of the blog.

The proximate cause for the discussion now is a presentation by Shantanu Gupta, director of Connected Intelligent Solutions for Intel’s Data Center and Connected Systems Group, which showed up in GigaOm the other day. According to this presentation, what comes after yottabyte is brontobyte, or 10 followed by 27 zeroes.

This is not definite; as GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham points out, it’s not an official prefix, though it has been discussed since at least 1991 — though, that far back, it was 10 followed by 15 zeroes. It does, however, appear to be more accepted for the number than does hella-, which had a brief flurry a couple of years ago as people tried to promote it.

Past bronto, to 10 followed by 30 zeroes, it gets more complicated, partly due to what honestly looks like typographical errors.

Gupta refers to “geobyte” in his presentation — but also refers to “bronobyte” as opposed to “brontobyte” for 10 followed by 27 zeroes . Wikianswers also refers to “geobyte.”

Higginbotham refers to “gegobyte” for the figure, as does Seagate in a blog posting riffing on the GigaOm post.

On the other hands, answers.yahoo.com uses “geopbyte” for the figure, as does the Urban Dictionary and whatisabyte.com.

Geo-, gego-, or geop-? It kind of doesn’t matter, because it’s all unofficial anyway, but somebody might want to figure it out at some point.

Beyond what-do-we-call-it, we also have the obligatory how-to-put-it-in-terms-we-puny-humans-can-understand discussion, aka the Flurry of Analogies that came up when IBM announced a 120-petabyte hard drive a year ago. Depending on where you read about it, that drive was:

  • 2.4 million Blu-ray disks
  • 24 million HD movies
  • 24 billion MP3s
  • 1 trillion files
  • Eight times as largest as the biggest disk array available previously
  • More than twice the entire written works of mankind from the beginning of recorded history in all languages
  • 6,000 Libraries of Congress (a standard unit of data measure)
  • Almost as much data as Google processes every week
  • Or, four Facebooks

So, how big are bronto- and geo/gego/geop-?

Well, GigaOm wrote, “Cisco estimates we’ll see a 1.3 zettabytes of traffic annually over the internet in 2016.” On the other hand,  GigaOm cited a piece with the Cisco estimate being 130 exabytes, which would only be .13 zettabytes if I have my math right. Seagate estimates that total storage capacity demand will reach 7 zettabytes in 2020.

Yottabytes is in the realm of CIA and NSA spy data, noted a piece in the Examiner.com, which went on to point out, “As of 2011, no storage system has achieved one zettabyte of information. The combined space of all computer hard drives in the world does not amount to even 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.” A yottabyte would also be 250 trillion DVDs, GigaOm wrote.

For brontobyte, which Gupta said would be used primarily for the “Internet of Things” ubiquitous sensors, there are also somewhat fanciful definitions such as “More than the number of all the cells of the human body in each person living in Indiana and then some,” and “You would need a brontobyte computer to download everything on the Internet” (though, apparently not, according to Examiner.com).

Of course, once we start talking in terms of trillions of DVDs, obviously we’ve got to find another unit of measure. Interestingly, Seagate used geographic area.

“If today’s 4 terabyte 3.5-inch drive is roughly .16 square feet, you can get approximately 24 terabytes per square foot. That’s .0046 square miles of land mass per 4 terabytes. Assuming 1 terabyte per disk was the maximum areal density, and hard drives will not get any thicker than 1 inch:

  • An exabyte hard drive would be about the size of Connecticut [or, I would add, Owyhee County in Idaho]
  • A zettabyte hard drive would be about the size of Antarctica
  • A yottabyte hard drive would cover the earth 23 times
  • A brontobyte hard drive would cover the earth 23,000 times
  • A gegobyte hard drive would cover the earth 23,000,000 times”
Of course, that would be using today’s technology.

Beyond that? Wikianswers postulated Saganbyte, Jotabyte, and Gatobyte, while Wikipedia referred to a system working backward through the Greek alphabet — though that one wouldn’t include brontobyte or geo/gego/geopbyte.


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