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How do you measure the size of the Internet?

how big is the internet?You probably never heard of a Gegobyte. Not many have as the name isn’t quite official yet. But it’s a really big number. And it’s new terms like this that we’ll use in the future. Particularly when we measure the Internet.  Of course, there are different ways to measure the Internet. Some count the number of users. Others look at the amount of data shared over the Internet.  While the number of users can be interesting, there’s really a ceiling of just over seven billion if every person on the planet gets online.

That number is small change compared to the amount of data on the Internet and the information being collected by organisations around the world. So how much data is there?

Cisco reports there will be over a Zettabyte of IP traffic over the Internet by end of 2016. That’s the equivalent of over one billion terabytes or one trillion gigabytes. Here’s a more vivid description of how much data that really is: According to an infographic by xo communications, a gigabyte stores about 960 minutes of music. A Zettabyte can store two billion years of music.

There are reports that the U.S. National Security Agency (the NSA, subject of the recent privacy violations in the news) is building a facility capable of storing Zettabytes of data. The agency will not confirm the number but does say they are planning for future growth. That probably means going beyond the Zettabyte.

Already the Zettabyte is so large it’s impossible to grasp, but the numbers get even higher. Here’s a quick rundown of prefixes (like Giga to the Gigabyte) that will be more common in the years to come compared to the ones we already know:

Giga = 1 followed by 10 zeros

Tera = 1 followed by 13 zeros

Peta = 1 followed by 16 zeros

Exa = 1 followed by 19 zeros

Zetta = 1 followed by 22 zeros

Yotta = 1 followed by 25 zeros

Suggested by not yet official terms going even bigger:

Bronto = 1 followed by 28 zeros

Gego = 1 followed by 31 zeros

Even still it’s probably hard to think what these numbers mean. The largest amount of data storage you can get on an iPad maxes out at 128 Gigabytes. In 2013, the largest single hard drive size available tops out at 12 Terabytes. What we experience in our personal use of devices doesn’t even come close to the amount of data available on the Internet, or in data centres built to house that information.

There was a time though, when the ability to have a 1 Gigabyte hard drive was a really big deal. There may come a day when we can hold a Zettabyte in the palm of our hand. Can you imagine how big the Internet will be then?

Oliver Burt

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