Volume of data darn near indescribable ... without the iPad

EMC-sponsored study by IDC pegs 'digital universe' at unfathomable 1.8 zettabytes

Digital Universe

The world's digital data is doubling every two years and the amount created or replicated in 2011 will reach 1.8 zettabytes, a pile so gargantuan that its size can only be rendered understandable to the layman when translated into iPads.

That's right, words no longer suffice; we need something magical for this job.

The problem is presented in a press release touting the fifth annual IDC Digital Universe study, sponsored by EMC. A bar chart, right, and enormous infographic at the bottom of this post will give you an overview of the study's findings. Here we're going to try to get our minds around 1.8 zettabytes. The sentences in bold are from the press release.

In terms of sheer volume, 1.8 zettabytes of data is equivalent to:

Every person in the United States tweeting 3 tweets per minute for 26,976 years nonstop.

The trouble here is that even if you know the population of the United States (311 million, give or take) and the length of a tweet (140 characters, maximum) you're still left to plug those pieces into a length of time (26,976 years) that has no meaning to most anyone not a paleontologist.     

Every person in the world having over 215 million high-resolution MRI scans per day.

Don't worry, I looked it up for you; the world has almost 7 billion people. And while I haven't the foggiest notion as to how much data would be represented by a single high-resolution MRI scan, never mind 215 million of them, I can tell you based on recent experience that the so-called "open MRI machines" are really not all that open.

Over 200 billion HD movies (each 2 hours in length) - Would take 1 person 47 million years to watch every movie.

Honestly, that one doesn't help at all.

But look what happens when the study's authors use their handy-dandy zettabyte-to-iPad translator:

The amount of information needed to fill 57.5 billion 32GB Apple iPads. With that many iPads we could:

Create a wall of iPads, 4,005-miles long and 61-feet high extending from Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida.

There's a map of the United States, and there's a wall of iPads about 10 times my height.

Build a mountain 25-times higher than Mt. Fuji.

You don't even need to know the elevation of the mountain (12,388 feet) to form that mental picture.

Cover 86% of Mexico City.

Take a big city, cover almost all of it with iPads. Got it.

Build the Great iPad Wall of China - at twice the average height of the original.

Bet that baby would be visible from space.

Yes, yes, I understand that this exercise need not be about the iPad at all and that any old 9.5-by-7.31-by-.34-inch box packing 32 GB would do. But what picture of what tablet has been seared into your brain by two-plus years of Apple marketing?

I mean they used to use the Library of Congress for these types of comparisons. Libraries don't stack as well.

(Disclaimer: All of the math here belongs to IDC and EMC; blame me not for any errors.)

Digital Universe

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.