Data Storage: Kilobytes to Exabytes

Posted on by Mike Evans

Every time we up the ante in digital storage, the old "big" unit looks incredibly small. Thirty years ago when I started computing we talked in awe of kilobytes and a megabyte was something almost beyond comprehension. Now it's less than a snapshot on a point-and-shoot camera. My first hard disk, an external monster the size of small fridge, had an incredible capacity of 5MB. Who would ever need more, I wondered at the time. Now the megabyte is  almost inconsequential and we've moved to gigabytes and terabytes with petabytes (PB) just around the corner.

All this sprung to mind this morning when I read in Macworld that scientists have calculated that all the electronic data stored to date comes to 295EB or 295 billion gigabytes. The same experts also concluded that 2002 is the start of the digital age because it was then that digital storage capacity overtook total analogue capacity worldwide.

The sad thing is that our requirements in storage expand constantly in response to higher storage capabilities. Software continually bloats and data files—especially media files—are already moving routinely into gigabyte territory. Cheap computers are already equipped with 1TB disks and 4GB of RAM is now considered baseline for any serious work.

We'd better get used to petabytes and exabytes and, while we're at it, we ought to mug up on zettabytes (ZB) and yottabytes (YB). I've a feeling we're going to need 'em.

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