The Friday Blog - Big Numbers

Blog Post created by bhalle on Jun 5, 2015

There are some enormous numbers whizzing through the internet these days. Cisco says that 1 zettabyte of data will be processed annually by next year. That’s 168 exabytes a month.


When I read that, I thought it was impressive. Then I admitted that if I had any earthly idea how much an exabyte or a zettabyte contained, I’d probably have tears in my eyes.


Let’s go back to the beginning. It’s 1795 and the metric system is introduced. That’s when we got deca, hecto and kilo.


In 1960, the numbers were getting bigger so mega, giga and tera were added. That year, there was another sign that things were getting bigger. The farthing was no longer legal tender in Great Britain. One fourth of a cent no longer bought anything. (My Pittsburgh DNA won’t allow me to mention 1960 without acknowledging the exabytagonal greatness of Bill Mazeroski. His homerun allowed the Pirates to win the World Series against the Yankees in 1960.)


Peta and exa were added in 1975. Also in 1975, the Altair 8800 was released which was the start of the microcomputer revolution. Microsoft (from a Bill Gates abbreviation for “microcomputer software”) was also founded the same year. In 1991, zetta and yotta were added.


The yottabyte was not named after Yoda. I know your IT guy told you that and he’s usually right but he’s got Death Star Fever on that one. The names are derived primarily from Latin and are also tied to Greek words. Zetta is the last letter of the Latin alphabet. Yotta is derived from the Greek word meaning eight since it’s equal to 10008.


We still need a yardstick for the human brain to measure these amounts.

  • 10 bytes = a single word
  • 10 kilobytes = a single encyclopedia page (a small-to-medium Wiki page for the youngsters)
  • 10 megabytes = a digital chest x-ray
  • 10 terabytes = the entire Library of Congress
  • 2 petabytes = the contents of all U.S. academic research libraries
  • 1 exabyte = 500X the Library of Congress
  • 1 zettabyte = 250 billion DVDs


To humanize it even further, soak in this quote from Kevin Coleman:

Data when processed becomes information. Information when analyzed becomes knowledge. Knowledge when applied becomes intelligence.


Dale Carnegie said that when knowledge is applied, it becomes power.


Do you feel intelligent and powerful enough to quantify the diameter of Alpha Centauri? Me, neither. But here’s one more thing to think about: Cisco estimates a 23% compound annual growth rate in internet traffic. I’ll bet several farthings that the intelligent and powerful know they’re going to need a bigger data closet for all that traffic. Limelight Storage!