You know “big data” has gone mainstream when it shows up in Popular Science. Today’s PopSci post describes the realization that the ocean of data is really here, and we’re all going to have to figure out how to swim in it.
An example of just how huge the data is comes from the callout quote from the article:
In 2011 the volume of available data is predicted to continue along its exponential growth curve to 1.8 zettabytes. (A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes; that’s a 1 with 21 zeros trailing behind it.)
In the world of science, we have prefixes for how big things are: a “megabyte” is 1,000,000 bytes*, a “gigabyte” is 1,000,000,000 bytes (or 1,000 megabytes), and so on. The term “zettabyte” is so large that there is only one other officially recognized prefix beyond that (the “yottabyte” or 1,000 zettabytes) – at some point, we’re going to need to approve more prefixes!
* – and yes, I know that for computer memory, a megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes, and for computer storage, it’s 1,000,000 bytes.
According to the PopSci article, the amount of data is following Moore’s Law pretty well, where the data sizes, memory capacity, processor speeds, etc. (basically all things computation) all seem to double every 2 years or so. Here’s a quote from the article:
The amount of data available to us is increasingly vast. In 2010 we played, swam, wallowed, and drowned in 1.2 zettabytes of the stuff, and in 2011 the volume is predicted to continue along its exponential growth curve to 1.8 zettabytes. (A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes; that’s a 1 with 21 zeros trailing behind it.) The IDC Digital Universe study from which I’ve plucked these numbers helpfully notes that if you were inclined to store all that data on the hard drives of 32-gigabyte iPads, doing so would require 57.5 billion devices—enough to erect a 61-foot-high wall 4,005 miles long, from Miami all the way to Anchorage.