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Orders of Magnitude in Digital Data & Computer Storage

happy boy working at computer smiling

Here is a fun breakdown of data nomenclature. I’m sure you are all familiar with the 1st several entries but the latter ones ought to give you a run for your money, ever heard of a petabyte or a yottabyte?




Computer Storage Units Smallest to Largest

Bit is an eighth of a byte*

The bit is the smallest fundamental size of data storage. It is a binary digit meaning that it can take the value of either 1 or 0. All computer data can be broken down to a string of these 1 and 0 (like in the Matrix, only it doesn’t fall down the screen like rain). When represented as a string it is called binary code.

Byte: 1 Byte

A single byte stores eight bits*, eight 1’s or 0’s. This octet of bits is the smallest unit for a base 1,000 order of magnitude naming system as follows…

Kilobyte: 1 thousand or, 1,000 bytes

Files not relying on on the kilo prefix are the boring ones, word docs, excel sheets, most pictures.

Megabyte: 1 million, or 1,000,000 bytes

Still pretty lame. Short videos, music. Even a pre-historic floppy disc can store a bunch of these.

Gigabyte: 1 billion, or 1,000,000,000 bytes

Finally respectable. The GB is quickly becoming the standard by which storage capacity is judged as most computer hardware will advertize capacity in terms of GB’s

Terabyte: 1 trillion, or 1,000,000,000,0000 bytes

Currently, hard drive capacity does not exceed this order of magnitude. One terabyte of data can store just under two and a half years of music played continuously. The entire library of congress can be stored on 82 terabytes of data.

Petabye: 1 quadrillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

Now things are getting hardcore. This is the largest order of magnitude which is any single organization claims to have the capacity of and/or handle. All of the user photo’s on Facebook is estimated at close to 1 petabyte of data. Google processes an estimated 20 petabytes of data a day.

Exabyte: 1 quintillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

The exabyte is borderline hypothetical at this point. It is theorized that, per month, the entire internet (yeah, lolcats and all) see’s about 5-8 exabytes of traffic. It was proposed that in 2006 all computer data would fit on 160 exabytes of data.

Zettabyte: one sextillion or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

WARNING, WARNING you are now in the DANGER ZONE of data storage capacity.It is estimated that by the year 2010 all digital data in existence will sum up to just under one Zettabyte.

Yottabyte: 1 septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

Trying to quantify this may make your head explode so you’ll need to sign a release before I go any further.

*a byte can actually be composed of any number of bits, however, eight is standard

As crazy as those names sound, it’s the real deal.

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