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The Dawn Of The Zettabyte Era

David Gilbert



We still remember when a gigabyte seemed like a huge amount of storage. Then along came the terabyte and we thought we’d never need any more storage. But since then we’ve seen the petabyte and exabyte become commonly used terms – and now we’re beginning the era of the zettabyte.

That’s according to Cisco anyway, as the latest findings from the Cisco Virtual Networking Index suggest we’ll need to add the term “zettabyte” to our vocabulary by 2015. In a bid to help explain the volume of information we are talking about, Cisco has helpfully created a giant infographic, which sets out just how what amount of information a zettabyte represents. According to the research by 2015 the majority (61 percent) of global internet traffic will be in some form of video - Internet video-to-PC, Internet video-to-TV, mobile video, etc. The majority of this video will be long form (more than seven minutes) with Internet video on TV will represent the next highest volume.


As you can see from the graphic at the top of the page, one zettabyte is equal to 1,000 exabytes, one exabyte equal to 1,000 petabytes, one petabyte equal to 1,000 terabytes and from there you can guess the rest. Cisco comes up with some interesting facts about the amount of information we are dealing with such as the fact that it would take you five years to watch the amount of video that will cross global networks every second in 2015. Another interesting fact is that an exabyte has the capacity to hold 36,000 hours of HD video content or stream the entire Netflix catalog more than 3,000 times. A zettabyte on the other hand could hold 250 billion DVDs – which should be just about enough to hold our current DVD collection.

Just to blow your mind a little more, Cisco says that if the coffee cup on your desk represented a gigabyte, then a zettabyte would have the same volume as the Great Wall of China - now there's a concept to get your head around.

Source: Cisco Blog

Tony Walker

June 30, 2011, 2:39 am

What do i think? The question under the "Comments" logo asks.

I think you're 24 short on all of you counts above. I steadfastly refuse to count computer volumes in the short measures beloved of hard-drive manufacturers. They can use kibble/tibble/wibble bytes or whatever they're called.

Repeat after me. 8 bits to a byte, 1024 bytes to a kilobyte (2 to the power of 10) etc. Each boundary is a power of two. This is binary computing after all!


June 30, 2011, 3:37 pm

@Tony Walker - you're being not only pedantic, but also wrong. From the Wikipedia entry on Gigabyte:

"The prefix giga means 10^9 in the International System of Units (SI), therefore 1 gigabyte is 1000000000 bytes. The unit symbol for the gigabyte is GB or Gbyte, but not Gb (lower case b) which is typically used for the gigabit.

Historically, the term has also been used in some fields of computer science and information technology to denote the gibibyte, or 1073741824 (1024^3 or 2^30) bytes. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defined the unit accordingly for the use in power switchgear. In 2000, however, IEEE adopted the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recommendation, which uses the metric prefix interpretation."


June 30, 2011, 3:46 pm

"an exabyte has the capacity to hold 36,000 hours of HD video content or stream the entire Netflix catalog more than 3,000 times"

36,000?? An exabyte is a billion gigabytes. A Blu-ray disc is at most 50 GB. So you could fit the contents of 20,000,000 full Blu-ray discs on one exabyte of storage, which is a lot more than 36,000. Did you mean 36,000,000? The Blu-ray format calls for a maximum AV bitrate of 48Mbit/s, which equals 6 MB/s or 21.6 GB/hr. This would mean one exabyte has storage for over 45 million hours of HD video and audio at the top bitrates permitted under the Blu-ray specification.


June 30, 2011, 4:36 pm

Also why does that graphic "suggest we'll need to add the term "zettabyte" to our vocabulary by 2015"? From what I can see, it suggests total internet traffic of 59,000 petabytes per month (59 exabytes per month), which is still a long way short of one zettabyte.

Also, zettabyte is already IN our vocabulary - it's a recognised word. It may not be common parlance, but then neither really are petabyte and exabyte. Terabyte perhaps is, because ordinary users have access to Terabyte HDDs, so they can get a handle on what 1 TB actually means in real terms. We're a long, long, long way from petabyte HDDs, and as a petabyte is a million times smaller than a zettabyte, it isn't clear to me why zettabytes are big news. But I guess it got Cisco's name in your publication...

Tony Walker

July 1, 2011, 1:38 am

The Gibibyte was invented by fools who can't understand binary in Dec 1998 (Wikipedia).

I personally have been computing since 1983 and have been merrily using KB, MB, and GB on the closest power-of-2 boundary.

Indeed using a decimalised variant would have led to serious consequences in work that I have done over the years.

When processors start computing in decimal, come back and argue your point again.

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