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YottabytesThe amount of data and meta data that we are creating and saving is growing at an incredible clip. The data includes emails, presentations, documents, and other things but the majority of the data for many people is digital pictures and digital music. The meta data is data about the data. For example, a song (track) is data. The data about the data (the meta data) includes the name of the artist, the name of the album, the name of the composer, the length of the recording, genre (classical, blues, rock, pop, opera, etc.), the artwork from the CD case, and potentially a whole more. For a digital picture the meta data includes the date, the camera used, the various settings of the camera at the time the picture was taken, the size of the picture, the lighting, and potentially the latitude and longitude and digital ID of the photographer at the time the picture was taken. Meta data also includes "tags" that we assign to pictures and music — things like "favorite", "top ten", "family", "vacation", "Carribean cruise", "Private", "Aunt Sallies birthday party", and on and on. At some point there may be more meta data than there is data.
My first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80, had 80,000 bytes of storage on the hard drive. An average email these days is probably 5,000 bytes, so the TRS-80 hard drive could store sixteen emails. My current ThinkPad hard drive has a capacity of 80 billion bytes — one million times more storage. A bit hard to imagine — until you start to think about the explosion of music, pictures, and meta data. Fortuntately, the technology is keeping up with our insatiable appeatites to store more and more data. Hopefully, the availability of affordable and easy-to-use backup technologies will be there too and we will have the patience and discipline to use them. Losing a few emails is one thing but losing pictures of a baby’s first few steps is another.
Pretty soon we will have a new word in our technical vocabularies — the yottabyte. How big is a yottabyte? Let’s start with the basics. An alphabetic character such as an "a" is represented in most computers by a combination of eight zeroes and ones called a "byte".

  • 1,024 bytes is a kilobyte
  • 1,024 kilobytes is a megabyte
  • 1,024 gigabytes is a terabyte
  • 1,024 terabytes is a petabyte
  • 1,024 petabyes is an exabyte
  • 1,024 exabytes is a zettabyte
  • and finally — or at least for now…1,024 zettabytes is a yottabyte

Other ways to look at a yottabyte are that it is 2 to the 80th power bytes, or 10 to the 24th power bytes , or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. I have no doubt we will have lots of yottabytes of meta data.

P.S. You can find some interesting information about the origins of the yottabyte in the wikipedia. Also, if one would commit a single byte of information to store the location of every atom contained in the human body, it would require about 5,900 yottabytes. Not long ago, no one would even try to describe what it would take. Maybe BMUS (beam me up Scotty) is not so far fetched after all.