Data creation outstrips storage for first time: IDC

It's not all doom and gloom, however

Digital information is being created at a faster pace than previously thought, and for the first time, the amount of digital information created each year has exceeded the world's available storage space, according to a report from analyst firm IDC.

"This is our first time ... where we couldn't store all the information we create even if we wanted to," states the EMC-sponsored report, titled The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe.

The amount of information created, captured and replicated in 2007 was 281 exabytes (or 281 billion gigabytes), 10% more than IDC previously believed — and more than the 264 exabytes of the estimated available storage on hard drives, tapes, CDs, DVDs and memory. IDC revised its estimate upward after realising it had underestimated shipments of cameras and digital TVs, as well as the amount of information replication.

The 2007 total is well above that of 2006, when 161 exabytes of digital information was created or replicated.

The world isn't actually running out of storage space, IDC notes, because a lot of digital information doesn't need to be stored. Examples include radio and TV broadcasts consumers listen to and watch but don't record, voice call packets that aren't needed when a call is over, and surveillance video that isn't saved.

But the gap between available storage and digital information will only grow, making it that much harder for vendors and users to efficiently store information that does need to be archived.

In 2011 there will be nearly 1,800 exabytes of information created, twice the amount of available storage, IDC predicts. One long-term experiment planned for the soon-to-open Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest particle acclerator, in Switzerland by itself will create an amazing 300 exabytes of data per year, IDC says.

EMC's president of content management, Mark Lewis, doesn't think the world will ever hit the point where the world's available storage is exceeded by the amount of information organisations need to store. "With the price points of storage continuing to decline, I don't think we're ever going to create some kind of storage shortage," he says.

Organisations and their employees create about a third of new data, but organisations are ultimately responsible for maintaining the security, privacy and reliability of 85% of all data, according to IDC.

Information growth is placing greater importance on retaining data in lower-cost, environmentally sound ways, with lower-performance drives, archiving and powering down storage devices containing rarely accessed data, Lewis says.

About 70% of new information is created when individuals take actions, such as snapping pictures, making VoIP calls, uploading content to YouTube and sending emails. But more than half of the information related to individuals isn't directly created by them. Rather, the bulk of this digital content is a person's "digital shadow", information about individual human beings sitting in cyberspace. Digital surveillance photos, web search histories, banking and medical records and general backup data all contribute to someone's digital shadow.

Here's a quick look from IDC at how a few businesses and industries contribute to growing data volumes:

-- Wal-Mart refreshes its customer databases hourly, adding a billion new rows of data each hour to a data warehouse that already holds 600 terabytes.

-- The oil and gas industry is developing a "digital oilfield" to monitor exploration activity. Chevron's system accumulates 2 terabytes of new data each day.

-- The utility industry may develop an "intelligent grid" with millions of sensors in the distribution system and power meters.

-- Manufacturing companies are rapidly deploying digital surveillance cameras and RFID tracking.

-- YouTube's 100 million users create nearly as much digital information as all medical imaging operations.

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