Incoming: the exaflood

Question: What is an exaflood?

My first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80, had 16K of memory and used a cassette tape for data I/O. Today, one of my several computers has 500GB of RAM and a Blu-ray DVD writer, capable of writing 36MB/s of I/O. Every data measurement is in at least mega if not giga terms. And even tera and peta are becoming more common. What's next? It appears the next scaling term may be exa.

While reading a report about the growth of data being passed around the Internet, I came across a new term, exaflood. It's based on the exabyte, which is 260 bytes of data. Being unfamiliar with the exabyte, I tried to put a handle on its relative size.

Consider that a page of typed information requires about 2KB of data storage. The complete works of Shakespeare would then occupy about 5MB of data. So far, these sizes are understandable.

Now, fill your favorite pickup truck with copies of the works of Shakespeare. That tallies about 1GB of data in the truck. Finally, imagine 1 billion book-filled trucks. That's what an exabyte looks like. To say an exabyte is large is an understatement.

Discovery Institute fellow Bret Swanson wrote in his January 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial that a coming exaflood (exabytes) of data might exceed the available bandwidth of the Internet. His comments set the blogosphere chattering about how video, because of the large file sizes, could be the death of the Internet. “Woe is me,” they cried.

While overstated, there is something to the huge increase in the amount of data being sent via the Internet. The research firm IDC released a study this year indicating that in the last year alone, some 161 exabytes (161EB) of digital information were created and copied. This represents 3 million times the equivalent data from all the books ever written! The issue, according to these researchers, is that the Internet may be approaching its capacity.

It's not just regular Internet users that are to blame. Bango, a mobile web service company, says that mobile phone-accessed Internet rose by 300 percent last year. And with mobile video just over the horizon, expect that consumption to explode.

By 2010, video downloading and streaming will account for as much as 90 percent of Internet bandwidth traffic. Consider that the Web site YouTube consumes as much bandwidth today as the entire Internet did in 2000. The popular Web site downloads up to 100 million videos daily. Researchers predict that by 2010, the data generated by just 20 U.S. homes will equal that used by the entire Internet in 1995.

Those of us who were early to the computer age often like to reminisce about the good old days, but the real excitement lies in new technology — more powerful computers, smaller drives providing increased storage and HD TV sets where the images almost pop off the screen. Wow, that's where it's at, and Internet delivery will be part of that tomorrow.

Bring on the exaflood.

Now, if I could just figure out how to get HD video into that TRS-80.

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“The Broadband Factbook,” Internet Innovation Alliance

“The Internet's Capacity to Handle Fast-Rising Demand for Bandwidth” and “The Exabyte Internet,” US Internet Industry Association (USIIA)

“The Coming Exaflood,” Bret Swanson, Wall Street Journal