Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where does it all come from and where is going?

The internet is a staggering force in our society. The "latest" trends in the marketplace of internet usage are social media and mobile access. Each has played a significant role in the increased traffic on the internet. I ran across a new term the other day while refocusing on the needs of the OJCC, the "Zettabyte." This fiscal year, we will need to purchase some hardware to expand our ability to store the PDF images that you send to us every day, not on the scale of the Zettabyte, but it is interesting.

We crossed a milepost in fiscal 2013 (07.01.12 through 06.30.13). For the first time, our annual e-filings exceed one half million PDF images inbound to the OJCC from users, 502,448 to be exact. The incoming e-filing volume grows annually.

Could we have built this system without the internet? Certainly. Before we heard of the internet, we used to dial into servers using our modems, and we shared data. There used to be company (it may still be out there, but I have not heard the tag line in years) whose advertising tag line was "we don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better." Likewise, we don’t make the internet, but I think we make the internet better. Conversely, the internet did not make electronic filing, but it makes electronic filing better (and easier).

Back to the new term, “Zettabyte.” I went to the internet and searched for this unfamiliar term. The definition is staggering in itself. I remember my first personal computer (PC), with its 256 kilobytes of memory, which I later traded to buy my first PC with a hard drive. It had an absurd volume of storage, a 10 megabyte hard drive (I thought at the time I had overspent on something I would never be able to fill with data). I am writing this blog a few decades later and saving it on a 2 gigabyte memory stick that fits in my pocket, and which is almost full. What a difference a couple of decades make.

What does it all mean? Here are some comparisons from “High Scalability” on the web. One byte is a typewritten character. One kilobyte is about half of a typed page. One thousand kilobytes is a megabyte and that is “a small novel.” One thousand megabytes (remember my second PC had a 10 megabyte hard drive) is a gigabyte, which equates to a “pickup truck filled with paper.” That little memory stick/flash drive I am using will hold two pickup trucks of paper!

One thousand gigabytes is called a “Terabyte” and is the equivalent of 50,000 trees made into paper. As another illustration, 10 Terabytes would hold the entire collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. One thousand Terabytes is called a “Petabyte,” and just two Petabytes would hold “all U.S. academic research libraries.” One thousand Petabytes is one “Exabyte;” five Exabytes would hold “all words ever spoken by human beings” (another computer expert calculated that storing all human words would require much more space, see further below). One thousand Exabytes is a Zettabyte. That is one sextillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). This is a staggering volume of digital memory.

Why the lesson in digital memory? In 2011, the world created about 1.8 Zettabytes of information. In 2012, it is extimated that the world’s data production was 2.7 Zettabytes, up almost 50% from 2011. The rate is increasing annually, some feel exponentially. And with all that is being created, it has to be stored. And store it we shall!

That does not necessarily mean it is all worth storing, or that it is worth storing forever. The High Scalability folks predict that in just a few years, 2016, internet traffic will be in excess of a zettabyte annually. According to Digital Universe, technologists will continue to work with tools/theories like “deduplication, compression and analysis tools” to reduce the cost of storing all of this information. The very accumulation of data will become a serious focus of our efforts in coming years.

Beyond the PDF images, much of the growth in the world of information storage is coming from platforms just like the one you are reading. Increasingly, people are taking to the blogosphere and expressing their thoughts. This blog is about a page and a half, which is likely only about two kilobytes. Not much of an impact in a Zettabyte world. But, as the volume of bloggers grows, and as the readers add their comments, so increases the volume of information and thought exchanged.We will likely want to question how much of this is worth keeping as well.

In case you made it this far without answering your own question (I know, what comes after Zettabytes?), the next name which we will hear is one thousand Zettabytes, or a Yottabyte (which they say is named after Yoda, of Star Wars fame). There are already terms in place for describing one thousand Yottabytes, one thousand Xenottabytes, one thousand Shilentnobytes, and beyond. The data continues to grow, the pace is increasing, and the implications of all of this information production and storage are simply astounding. And, you are a part of it. Reading this blog encourages me to write more. E-filing your documents adds to the vast accumulation of data.

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