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How to Understand the Data Explosion

By The Wall Street Journal

December 10, 2021

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Remember getting your first digital camera? Suddenly you could take (and keep) hundreds of photographs. Today, it's likely that you're keeping thousands of photos—as well as video, audio and other files—on the phone in your pocket.

The files on your phone are only a microcosm of the global increase in data creation and storage. Individuals, businesses and governments are generating an almost astronomical amount of data that require strings of zeros and arcane terms just to describe the sheer volume. About 64 zettabytes was created or copied last year, according to IDC, a technology market research firm. That's 64 followed by 21 zeros. A zettabyte is 1 billion terabytes or 1 trillion gigabytes.

It isn't only hard to wrap your head around. All that data is a challenge to store, process and retrieve, and it will become more difficult as the volume surges and data stewards confront the sustainability of using immense amounts of electricity and water to power and cool data centers. Data-center construction will grow at compound annual rates of 5% to 10%, market researchers estimate.

The prospect has researchers seeking radical alternatives, including synthetic DNA. Its information density far exceeds what's possible with storage media like magnetic tape or optical discs. One project, sponsored by the federal Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is funding several teams with the short-term goal of producing DNA technology that can encode and retrieve up to 10 terabytes of information a day. The goal is to lay groundwork to shrink what now takes a full-size data center into a machine that sits on a desk.

From The Wall Street Journal
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