[Now You Know Fridays] What is a Yottabyte?

March 23, 2012

Our new Now You Know Fridays series scours the Web for the most interesting news in tech to add to your digital biz know-how!

Think a yottabyte has something to do with Star Wars’ Yoda? If so, you’re forgiven – it really does sound like something from a galaxy far, far away.

In fact, a yottabyte is a unit of data storage equal to septillion bytes. That’s 1000000000000000000000000 bytes.

So how big is that exactly?

According to the folks at Gizmodo, a yottabyte is astoundingly huge. So huge that storing it would require a data centre as big as the states of Delaware and Rhode Island and cost $100 trillion to build.

No storage system in the world contains even a tiny fraction of a yottabyte. Yet.

Yottabytes won’t rock your world today, but you may be grateful down the road that we have the ability to store such a staggering amount of data. With all those 0s and 1s we swap on a daily basis – on social networking sites, email and cellphones – we may one day need a place to store yottabytes of information.

That thought is keeping some IT professionals up at night. According to IDC’s 2011 Digital Universe forecast, organizations will need to deal with 50 times more information by 2020 than today, while IT staff is projected to grow by less than 1.5 times over the same period.

In 2009, the Guardian reported that the planet’s digital content amounted an estimated 487 billion gigabytes. If printed and bound into books, the Guardian said “it would form a stack that would stretch from Earth to Pluto 10 times.”

And that was soooo three years ago – an eternity in this age of technology.

The U.S. Pentagon is now planning for an imminent data explosion. According to Wired magazine, the Pentagon is expanding its worldwide communications network to handle yottabytes of information.

“It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015, reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes equal a yottabyte.) ” says Wired.

Even as far back as 1991, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures felt the need to add the number yotta to its International System of Units, denoting it with the symbol Y.

The bureau says the term yotta is derived from the Latin word ‘octo’, suggesting the number eight (the eight power of 103). So why not call it an octo and be done with it?

The bureau’s numbers people thought of that, but were worried the symbol for octo – O – would be confused for a zero. So they decided to call it a yotta and make its symbol Y.  Which makes the symbol for a yottabyte YB.

Aren’t you glad you asked? May the force be with you.

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