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How Long Until the Next Zettabyte?

April 20, 2017  |  Written by Fabienne Adam, Sr. Director of Global Product Management - Interconnection

Last year saw an important milestone in the history of computing. After nearly 40 years of internet traffic flowing to end users and their devices, the total amount of traffic reached the massive, never before seen figure known as a Zettabyte. 

Just how big is a Zettabyte? It is the equivalent of one billion Terabytes. That is a number that is very hard to comprehend for most of us. Data Economy puts it in perspective by noting that if each Terabyte represented a kilometer a Zettabyte would equal 24,953 trips around the Earth or 9 trips to Mars and back. Now, that is some powerful growth.

To put that massive scale into a time-based perspective, the Terabyte as a storage unit did not even exist until 2007. Two years later, a 2 TB hard drive arrived. From a traffic perspective, in 1984, total global Internet traffic was 15 Gigabytes per month. By 2014, the average Internet traffic per user was 15 Gigabytes per month. Now, we’re getting set to collectively blow that figure out of the water, again. 

Demand for bandwidth and storage has changed as our collective use of the internet has changed, and it sure is startling to realize how much that utility has changed in such a short amount of time. There are two major factors resulting in this growth. On the one hand, there is a steady growth in the number of global internet users. On the other, there is also tremendous growth in the amount of data our activities create.

According to Cisco, global IP traffic will grow threefold over the next five years. It’s important to realize how much more sophisticated data has become over these short periods of time. We’ve gone from basic transfer of information like web pages and emails to nearly instantaneous downloads of HD video, augmented and virtual reality environments, and constant, ubiquitous connectivity. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution in its early stages, it’s not hard to imagine how that data will continue to proliferate at tremendous rates. 

Fast forward to 2020. There are predicted to be over 4 billion internet users globally. Cisco also predicts that if you wanted to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month, it would take you more than 5 million years to do so. Traffic from smartphones will also eclipse traffic from personal computers

With the number of global internet users rising steadily and the sheer amount of data rising even faster, it’s not hard to see the Zettabyte becoming just another norm when it comes to traffic measurement and data storage. So, how long until the next Zettabyte? Time will tell. Learn how Digital Realty’s Connected Campus can help your company thrive in the Zettabyte era.

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