Billions and Billions of Gigabytes Served

Several reports talk about how the explosion of digital information is creating new challenges for companies trying to rein in IT costs. Others tell us how to cope with these challenges. But none tells us just how big the information glut will be in the next few years. Until now.

Researcher IDC today released a report, sponsored by information management vendor EMC, forecasting that as much as 988 billion gigabytes of digital information will be created in 2010, a six-fold increase from 2006.

Last year, 161 exabytes (exabyte is a billion gigabytes) of digital information were created, representing roughly 3 million times the information in all the books ever written. Or, if you prefer, the equivalent of 12 stacks of books, each extending more than 92 million miles from the earth to the sun.


From now until 2010, IDC said it expects information will sport a compound annual growth rate of 57 percent to hit the 988 exabyte mark.

While IDC isn’t pushing any panic buttons yet, Chief Research Officer John Gantz said all companies, from Wal-Mart to AT&T to the bicycle shop down the street, will eventually need to employ more sophisticated techniques to transport, store, secure and replicate the information.

“The diversity of information, from very small packets of info from RFID to very large video surveillance files, is different among different constituencies in an organization,” Gantz told

“You can’t treat all data, all packets, and all bytes the same. That’s where you get into interesting situations of classifying data and determining what you save and what you don’t.

Whether it’s putting more bytes per platter or moving direct-attached storage to storage area networks, Gantz said vendors have to keep advancing information management technology because the “digital universe” is not going to stop growing.

Thanks to the Internet, that digital universe is thriving.

Only 48 million people routinely logged onto the Internet in 1996. Last year, there were 1.1 billion users on the Internet. IDC expects another 500 million users to come online by 2010.

Those users aren’t just surfing Web sites to find out whether the Yankees or Red Sox won. They’re creating scores of unstructured data, including images and e-mails, and exchanging them.

Pictures are the leading usurpers of gigabytes. People love taking and sending them. IDC said images taken from digital cameras, camera phones, medical scanners and security cameras will absorb the largest number of bytes, topping 500 billion by 2010.

No surprise when you consider images captured on consumer digital cameras in 2006 exceeded 150 billion worldwide, while the number of images captured on cell phones hit almost 100 billion.

And there have been, and will continue to be, a lot of e-mail.

From 1998 to 2006, the number of e-mail mailboxes grew from 253 million to nearly 1.6 billion. During the same period, the number of e-mails sent grew three times faster than the number of people e-mailing.

Instant messaging? IDC predicts 250 million IM accounts by 2010.

What are we to make of this digital information bounty? You can say people are hungry for information, that they are gluttonous consumers for knowledge, be it trivial or profound.

But these consumers are actually also information creators, and that will only snowball with the current explosion in wikis and blogs, which provide avenues on which information travel.

IDC said that while nearly 70 percent of the digital universe will be generated by individuals by 2010, most of this content will be touched by a business.

Information will traverse telephones, Internet switches, hosting sites, storage sites, networks or datacenters, and enterprises will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability and compliance of 85 percent of the information.

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