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Is the World Running Out of Storage Space?

Everything on your computer, from the files that make your operating system function to your cherished family photographs, is a piece of data. Although this data exists digitally, it still needs somewhere physical that actually holds it. If the data is stored locally then that could be your hard drive; if stored on the cloud then it could be your provider’s data centres.

Obviously you can’t just open up your computer case, pull out the hard drive and actually see your data stored inside it. But the components that make up that device are all working together to hold your data. And it might be hard to imagine, but it could be possible that one day the world will run out of storage space.

Data storage is an industry that is constantly improving and innovating, but at the same time the amount of data being created is increasing. What’s the likelihood that the amount of data created becomes so vast and huge that there aren’t enough physical devices capable of holding it all?

Gartner have predicted that the Internet of Things (IoT) install base will grow to 26 billion units in 2020, a near 30-fold increase from 2009’s 0.9 billion. The IoT is defined as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.”

The firm gathered these estimations by predict that existing products will adapt to become more connected, on top of to-be invented devices that will make use of the technology.

That’s not even including the 7.3 billion smartphones, tablets and PCs that are predicted to be in use by 2020.

2013 saw around 3.5 zettabytes (that’s 3.5 billion terabytes) of data produced in that year alone. By 2020 that figure is likely to grow to around 40 zettabytes per annum.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the simple answer to handling all this data is just to create more hard drives and data centres. However, while it isn’t difficult to produce devices capable of holding gigabytes or terabytes of data, it becomes much trickier when that scale is zettabytes.

The rate at which hard drives have advanced over the last couple of decades is staggering. Back in the late 70s a drive that could hold 5MB was cutting edge. Now you can buy 5TB hard drives that cost a fraction of the price and are the same physical size. Engineers are constantly finding way of squeezing more data into the same space, but now they’re beginning to look to new technologies.

Resistive random-access memory and heat-assisted magnetic recording are just two of the examples of recent innovations produced in order to deal with the growing demand in data. Even things like DNA are being studied in order to find out how to store vast amounts of data.

Businesses – and data centres – need to be aware of the growth of data. Data needs to be efficient, quick to access and cheap to host. Tiered storage is a suitable option (like drive hybrids) and businesses need to invest into research to know how to deal with the influx of data.


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