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Another bite at the zettabyte

Answer depends on whether we were talking Google or googol

By Paul McNamara on Tue, 06/22/10 - 1:28pm.

It all started with this post (also in the June 7 print edition) about the zettabyte toppling the petabyte from its perch as the measure of choice for describing humankind's yearly output of digital data. My quibble was with attempts by byte-counters to describe in layman's terms the scale of the new king, which weighs in at 1 trillion gigabytes, or a 1 followed by 21 zeroes.

Next came this short post where a reader of the first one took a crack at zettabyte, short version:  

"A zettabyte is about 1/5th of a Google."

Bingo! I exclaimed.

Not so fast, replied a whole bunch of you. An example from Mike Tortorella:

"Couldn't help noticing that (the Google comparison) is off by a few orders of magnitude. The 'googol' (not "Google", much as Google would like to be the standard for LARGE) is 10 to the 100 power (1 followed by 100 zeroes).  A zettabyte is 10 to the 21 ... so what is happening is that the log base 10 of a googol is about 5 times as big as the log base 10 of the zettabyte (well, 100/21 times, to be precise). "

And another from Paul Franklin:

"A zettabyte is about 1/5th of a Google: Cute, but did (he) mean a googol? And would he also say that a 10 is half of a 1000?"

I'm not sure. When I first read the initial fellow's e-mail, I thought "cute" - word play on the enormity of Google -- not "googol," as in the namesake of the company. Perhaps I was wrong.

Finally (I hope) we hear from Jason Zions, who notes that he is "employed by, but absolutely not speaking on behalf of, Microsoft:"

The term "googol" as a quantity predates the company by that name by several decades. A googol is 10 to the 100th power, 1e100, i.e. a 1 followed by 100 zeroes. One-fifth of that is 2e99. That's 78 orders of magnitude larger than a zetta of anything, bytes or hypeons (the fundamental particle of excessive puffery and/or bloviation).

1 TB is half the storage available on a big hard drive. A petabyte fits in two racks. An exabyte fills 500 racks, call it half the available space in a datacenter colo room. A zettabyte would fill 500 datacenter colo rooms. The top ten DC owners on the planet probably own or lease that much space already. Sure, the actual space is stuffed full of 2TB drives, but that's not the point of the thought experiment.

If every human on the planet had a 1TB hard drive, containing all the photos they'd ever taken, all the music they'd purchased, and their 200 favorite DVDs, you'd be talking, what, in excess of 6 ZB...

That's not hard to picture, now, is it?

Not for him.