How Large is a Petabyte?

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

If you’ve read my newsletter for any length of time, you know that besides health I’m also passionate about technology in all its forms. When you look at the breakneck speed of development of ever larger computer drives, it’s truly Moore’s Law in action.

Moore’s Law, as you may remember, is a popular axiom that predicts that the number of transistors per integrated circuit will double each year.

Two years ago we saw the introduction of the first terabyte (1,000 GB) drive, inching us ever closer to petabyte storage, which may be as little as another two years away.

The illustrations above are a great way to get an understanding of just how large a petabyte really is.

Imagine a computer with a 1,000,000 GB drive!

What could you put on it?

One thing's for sure, you certainly couldn't fill one up with your personal documents, photos or home movies.

How Many Books Could You Fit on a Petabyte Drive?

On average, one book takes up about one megabyte of space. If you read one book a day for every day of your life for 80 years, your personal library will amount to less than 30 gigabytes. So even if you were a voracious reader, you’d still have 999,970 gigabytes left over at the end of your life.

A major research library like the Library of Congress, which is said to hold 24 million volumes, would take up 1/50th of your disk space. You could literally fit 50 Library of Congresses on your personal petabyte drive.

You’ll Never Need to Delete a Photo Ever Again

Other kinds of information are bulkier than text. A large high-resolution image, for example, might take up as much as 10 megabytes.

If you were to snap 100 high-res photos documenting your life each and every day for 80 years, you’d have used up 30 terabytes. You’d still have 970,000 gigabytes left after a lifetime of high quality photos.

What about music?

MP3 audio files run a megabyte a minute, more or less. At that rate, a lifetime of listening--24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 80 years--would consume 42 terabytes of disk space.

So with a lifetime of music and pictures, you will still have 928,000 GB left on your disk.

Or, How About 57 Years of Non-Stop Movies?!

The one kind of content that could possibly consume a petabyte disk is video.

In the format used on DVDs, the data rate is about two gigabytes per hour. Thus a petabyte drive will hold some 500,000 hours worth of movies.

Or, if you were to film yourself all day and all night, you’d actually fill your petabyte drive after 57 years. With a second petabyte drive, you could record every single moment of life, in high-quality video, of the oldest person on earth.

Where Did You Put That Info?

A nagging question that has yet to be fully answered is how anyone will be able to organize and make sense of a personal archive amounting to 1 million gigabytes -- unless you’re as organized as the Library of Congress, and who is, really?

Computer file systems and the human interface to them are already creaking under the strain of managing a few gigabytes.

We’re now starting to see the other side of the economic equation as information itself is becoming increasingly free (or do I mean worthless?), but metadata—the means of organizing information—is becoming priceless.

The notion that we may soon have a surplus of disk capacity is profoundly counterintuitive. Because in addition to Moore’s Law predicting storage drives will double each year, another well-known corollary is Parkinson's Law, which says that data, like everything else, always expands to fill the volume allotted to it.

Shortage of storage space has been a constant of human history; I’ve never met anyone who had a hard time filling up closets or bookshelves or file cabinets. Closets, bookshelves and file cabinets, however, do not double in size every year.

In the end, only the human imagination will determine what we’ll end up doing with all that extra storage space.

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