Humans created 161 exabytes of data in 2006

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Humans created 161 exabytes of data in 2006

More data than space to store it.

The digital equivalent of 12 stacks of books stretching from the Earth to the Sun was created by humanity in 2006, according to new research.

A report from analyst IDC, commissioned by storage firm EMC, measured and forecast the amounts and types of digital information created and copied in the world. 

In 2006, 161 exabytes (161 billion gigabytes) of digital information was created and copied, continuing an unprecedented period of information growth.

This digital universe equals approximately three million times the information in all the books ever written.

According to IDC, the amount of information created and copied in 2010 will surge more than sixfold to 988 exabytes, representing a compound annual growth rate of 57 per cent.

IDC estimates that the world had 185 exabytes of storage available last year and will have 601 exabytes in 2010, meaning that we are rapidly running out of physical space to store this level of information.

Fortunately not all the data created is stored for any significant period of time; the data generated during a phone call, for instance, or the data copied during a TV transmission, are only stored briefly.

The last time research of this type was attempted was in 2003 by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who came up with an information total of around five exabytes.

This report did not include how often data was copied, but did include non-digital information, such as printed office documents and analogue broadcasts, by calculating how big they would be if digitised.

While nearly 70 per cent of the digital universe will be user-generated by 2010, most of this content will be touched by an organisation along the way, either on a network, in a data centre, at a hosting site, at a telephone or internet switch, or in a back-up system.

Businesses of all sizes, agencies, governments and associations will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability and compliance of at least 85 per cent of the information.

"The incredible growth and sheer amount of the different types of information being generated from so many different places represents more than just a worldwide information explosion of unprecedented scale," said John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.

"It represents an entire shift in how information has moved from analogue form, where it was finite, to digital form, where it is infinite.

"From a technology perspective, organisations will need to employ ever more sophisticated techniques to transport, store, secure and replicate the additional information being generated every day."

IDC researchers believe that the rapid uptake of technologies such as CCTV cameras, and regulations regarding the long-term preservation of corporate data, are key factors behind the massive increase in data creation.

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