Striving to store a yottabyte: the story of data

Sure, you probably know how far your month’s worth of data will get you before you have to recharge your data bundle, but do you how much a megabyte actually is?

The story of the byte starts in June 1956, when Werner Bucholz first coined the term while developing IBM’s first transistorised supercomputer, the IBM Stretch. Byte is a deliberate misspelling of “bite”, to prevent an accidental mutation to bit, the primary binary capacity of a system. The smallest increment of data on a computer, the bit holds one of two binary values: 0 or 1. Because a bit is so small, it is often assembled into a group of eight bits, forming a byte.

A byte contains the same amount of information as a single ASCII character (any letter representing text in electronic communication, for example “A”, “S”, “D”, “F”, or any other letter on a standard computer keyboard).

The binary system that computers use means that one kilobyte (KB) will consist of 1,024 bytes, while one megabyte (MB) will be made up of 1,024 kilobytes.

Now that you understand the basics, it’s easy to see that one gigabyte (GB) consists of 1,024MB, and one terabyte (TB) consists of 1,024GB.

One terabyte of data is the same amount of data as the contents of all the books in a large library, or about 1,610 CDs. To put that into perspective, the very first hard drive, the IBM Model 350 Disk File, released in 1956, had a storage capacity of just under 5MB. It would take a number of decades for computers to have storage capabilities of more than 1GB, and the IBM 3380, released in 1980, was the first computer to be able to store 2.52GB.

But even if data is made up of small parts, the world has come a long way, and we are now able to define even larger amounts of it. One petabyte of data (PB) consisting of 1,024TB of data is enough to fill a stack of CDs that are a mile high, but this isn’t the biggest way we’ve thought of data yet.

1,024 PB of data form one exabyte (EB), and 1,024 exabytes are enough to form one zettabyte (ZB). It still gets bigger: one yottabyte (YB) is made up of 1,024ZB.

How long will it take for our mobile phones to be able to store enough data to make up an exabyte, or even a yottabyte of data? Considering the pace of technological advancement, we dare say, it’ll be quicker than you might think!

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