Kevin Bartley

Data is growing at a faster rate than ever before.

90% percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years. And every two years, the volume of data across the world doubles in size.

But just how much data is there in the world today? Let’s look at some leading studies to understand not only the numbers, but the context behind the numbers.

 

What is Data? A Brief Definition.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines data as “actual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.” Data has existed long before computers. Five-thousand years ago, Sumerians used cuneiform tablets to keep track of livestock and property.

But non-digital data is not expanding nearly as rapidly as digital data. If you took all of the information from all US academic research libraries and lumped it all together, it would add up to 2 petabytes.

Back in 2008, Google was already processing 20 petabytes a day. That’s why we must focus heavily on digital data to answer our initial question.

 

What Led to this Explosion in Data?

The world’s data volume has increased dramatically in the past twenty years for several interlocking reasons.

According to Moore’s Law, digital storage becomes larger, cheaper, and faster with each successive year. And with the advent of cloud databases, previous hard limits on storage size became obsolete.

In the early 2000s, companies such as Google and Facebook harnessed cloud infrastructures to collect massive amounts of user data for customer targeting.

Companies around the world soon adopted similar big data tactics. And as billions of new users gained internet access across the globe, data generation increased exponentially.

 

Adding It All Up: How Much Data Is There in the World?

When estimating the amount of data in the world, we might find it helpful to break down the total into smaller increments.

Let’s start by examining the amount of data that’s generated every day. Raconteur’s infographic gives a sense of what a day means in terms of global data generation.

The world generates 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. That’s 1,000 petabytes!

Now what about the amount of data generated in a year? According to Statista Digital Economy Compass, the world generated 33 zettabytes of data in 2018 alone.

A zettabyte is 2 to the 70th power bytes, also expressed as 1021 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) or 1 sextillion bytes. This is the equivalent of 660 billion Blu-ray discs, 33 million human brains, 330 million of the world’s largest hard drive.

These snapshots by minute, day, and year are certainly helpful. But they aren’t broad enough to answer our question – how much data is there in the world? Here’s the big answer. According to IDC, the overall global datasphere reached 40 zettabytes by the end of 2019.

But what about those old mainframes, non-networked machines, local hard drives, and all the other unreachable forms of digital data? And what if we include non-digital data: insurance forms, books, instruction manuals?

The truth is, it’s hard to factor in some of that data. So perhaps it’s best to look at 40 zettabytes as the lower bound, a minimum estimate for how much data there is in the world.

In terms of where things are headed next, IDC predicts that by 2025, the amount of data in the world will reach a whopping 175 zettabytes.

 

Up, Up, and Away: Harness the Data Trends on the Horizon

As the volume of data in the world continues to grow exponentially, companies that put solutions and processes in place to master their data will rule the day. This explosion in data across the world presents a challenge – but also an opportunity.

Those who understand where the industry is headed can build leaner, more scalable data infrastructures now to enable success later. It’s a fun academic exercise to wonder how much data there is in the world. But data professionals really need to pay attention to the trends that are determining the answer to that question.

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