Fear not the Zettabyte Age

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14 June 2017 | 0

Billy MacInnesGood news. The data tsunami we were all so worried about – you were worried about it, weren’t you? – isn’t going to be quite as bad as some may have led us to believe.

You may have seen a figure of 40Zbs (zettabytes) of digital data by 2020 being bandied about over the last five years or so. This could well have caused a level of understandable anxiety given that 40Zbs is equivalent to 40 trillion Gbs. Anyway, the good news (and I accept that it’s all relative) is that, according to the Spectra Digital Data Storage Outlook 2017 report, “much of this data will never be stored or will be retained for only a brief time”. It adds that a substantial part of the data created “will be by nature transitory, requiring little or very short retention”.

In fact, Spectra predicts “the total amount of stored data in 2026 to be closer to 20Zb, building from a projected base of 3Zb in 2014”.

The reasons it gives for such a drastic revision in estimates for the size of total stored data are, when you stop to think about it, just common sense. Many items, such as slide shows and proposals, might include dozens of revisions and copies, generating up to 100 times the original data that will eventually be archived. Similarly, photos or video clips that aren’t needed might not be discarded as quickly as they should.

While fears of a data deluge have led many to focus on storage capacities and cost, retention (what to preserve and how much of it) is equally as important. For the most part, the customary solution has been to throw more storage at the problem but that merely delays the inevitable reckoning (and ensures there will be far more data to sift through and discard when, or if, an organisation is in a position to implement an effective strategy on the data it retains).

Whatever fears there may be about the amount of data that has to be stored in 2026 at a time of great demand and some constraints in budgets and infrastructure, Spectra believes there will only be a “small likelihood of a constrained supply of storage to meet the needs of the digital universe”. However, it warns that expected advances in storage technologies “need to occur during this timeframe”.

But there is a difference between expected advances and singular technological advances that can – and do – occur in the IT industry. Spectra warns that while organisations could place their hopes on a singular technological breakthrough to fix everything and rely on a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, it warns “coaches who build game plans around it have difficulty retaining their jobs”.

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