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The Digital Universe Created 161 Exabytes Of Data Last Year

The amount of digital information created last year alone is equal to three million times the amount of information in all the books ever written.

Sharon Gaudin

March 7, 2007

3 Min Read

Think you've got information overload? Brace yourself.

Last year, 161 exabytes of digital information were created and copied, according to research firm IDC. Can't get your mind around that number? That's understandable. Try this -- that amount of information is equal to three million times the amount of information in all the books ever written. It's also equal to 12 stacks of books, each extending the 93 million miles between the Earth and the sun.

And it's only going to continue to grow exponentially. According to IDC, the amount of information created and copied in 2010 will surge more than six fold to 988 exabytes. That amounts to a compound annual growth rate of 57%.

An exabyte is one quintillion bytes or a billion gigabytes.

While nearly 70% of what IDC is calling the digital universe will be generated by individuals over the next three years, most of this content will be touched by a business or government agency network along the way -- it will be held in a data center or at a hosting site, it will travel over a telephone wire or Internet switch, or it will be stored in a backup system. Those organizations, IDC said, will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability, and compliance of at least 85% of the information.

"The incredible growth and sheer amount of the different types of information being generated from so many different places represents more than just a worldwide information explosion of unprecedented scale," said John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC, in a written statement. "It represents an entire shift in how information has moved from analog form, where it was finite, to digital form, where it's infinite. From a technology perspective, organizations will need to employ ever-more sophisticated techniques to transport, store, secure, and replicate the additional information that is being generated every day."

EMC, a major storage vendor, sponsored the study, "The Expanding Digital Universe: A Forecast of Worldwide Information Growth Through 2010."

The largest component of the digital universe, IDC said, will be images captured worldwide by more than 1 billion devices, from digital cameras to camera phones, medical scanners, and security cameras. The number of images captured on consumer digital still cameras in 2006 exceeded 150 billion worldwide, while the number of images captured on cell phones hit nearly 100 billion, IDC said. Digital photography by 2010 will capture more than 500 billion images.

E-mail also will continue to be a large producer of information that needs transmitting, handling, and storing. The number of e-mail mailboxes has grown from 253 million in 1998 to nearly 1.6 billion in 2006, reported IDC. During the same period, the number of e-mails sent grew three times faster than the number of people e-mailing. Last year alone, the e-mail traffic from one person to another (not counting spam) accounted for 6 exabytes of information. And instant messaging isn't to be outdone. IDC predicts that there will be 250 million IM accounts by 2010.

"This ever-growing mass of information is putting a considerable strain on the IT infrastructures we have in place today," said Mark Lewis, EMC executive VP and chief development officer, in a written statement. "This explosive growth will change the way organizations and IT professionals do their jobs, and the way we consumers use information."

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