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Wanted: 40 trillion gigabytes of open storage, stat!

The world's storage needs are growing at an alarming rate, but are existing technologies ready to meet the challenge?

By Jon L. Jacobi, PC World
January 29, 2013 01:42 PM ET

PC World - Gigabytes and terabytes are so passe(c). It's soon going to be a zettabyte world thanks to all the digital data--images, books, music, movies, video, documents, maps, you name it--that we collect and engage with throughout our lives.

Industry research firm IDC predicts a 50-fold increase in the total amount of digitally stored data between 2010 and 2020. This means that in the next seven years, the world's total data footprint will reach 40 zettabytes (that's 40 trillion gigabytes), and every man, woman and child on the planet will account for some 5.2 terabytes of data whether in the cloud or local storage.

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That's a lot of ones and zeroes, and, unfortunately, help is not on the way in the form of some high-tech, sci-fi breakthrough. To wit: Holographic storage will not bail us out in the next seven years. Nope, between now and 2020, the heavy lifting will be done by that venerable mainstay of storage--the mechanical hard drive. And, yes, USB flash drives, SSDs (solid-state drives), optical drives, and even tape backup systems will also remain in play.

None of these technologies is poised for a revolution, but we should see some interesting evolution in various hardware areas. So let's take a peek at the incremental technology improvements that will help humankind reach that magic 40 zettabyte mark.

Next Up: Hard drives: Dull but reliable

Hard drives: Dull but reliable

The workhorse hard drive will remain the dominant storage mechanism for the world's data into the foreseeable future. According to Gartner's John Monroe and Joseph Unsworth, in 2016 hard drives will still account for 97 percent of total drive sales, despite the penetration of SSDs into the desktop and laptop markets. Hard drives continue to lead SSDs in both capacity and competitive pricing, and will do so for the foreseeable future--this in spite of growing capacity and price reductions for flash drives.

Luckily, hard drive performance and capacity will continue to see improvements in the coming years, thanks to several new technologies on the horizon. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies recently announced helium-filled drives aimed at enterprise and cloud storage. These drives promise a 40 percent increase in drive capacity and a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency.

(See related: SSDs vs. hard drives vs. hybrids: Which storage tech is right for you?)

Helium has one-seventh the density of air. As such, the element can reduce the drag and turbulence between drive platters, which translates to more precise read/write head placement, and allows narrower tracks to be written and more disk platters to be placed inside a drive.

Hitachi hasn't commented on increases in areal density (that is, how many bits can be squeezed into a single square inch), but it has said that its new 3.5-inch helium-filled drives, scheduled for delivery sometime in 2013, will boast seven platters instead of the current five. This increase in disk platters--all thanks to helium--will give us that 40 percent capacity increase per drive.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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