In the world of technology, it’s pretty common to hear a word and think, “I have no idea what that means.” Today, you get to encounter one of those words! In computing, there is always a push to increase power and increase it exponentially.
As we’ve increased our ability to compute and process, we have come up with new names for certain thresholds that we need to define. In this article, we are going to be taking a look at maybe the largest computing threshold that has ever been named: a yottabyte. Let’s discover what a yottabyte is in computing, and what it equals.
What Is a Yottabyte?
A yottabyte is a way to measure data when it comes to computing. It’s a theoretical number since we don’t actually have the ability to create this yet, but the storage capacity of a yottabyte is equal to 2 to the 80th power. In words, that is a million trillion megabytes. In numbers, it can be represented as follows: 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176.
To be clear, this number isn’t something that humans can really comprehend, let alone manage in any capacity. The number is named after the Greek οκτώ, or októ, which means eight. Since a yottabyte is 1,0008, it makes sense why it is named as such.
Right now, humans don’t have anything that is measured in yottabytes, but it’s probably just a matter of time before we do.
Comparing a Yottabyte
In order to get an understanding of how large a yottabyte is, seeing it compared to some more familiar things could help!
Here’s a quick progression of scale regarding storage capacity up to a yottabyte:
- Bit (the smallest common measurement in computing)
- Byte (eight bits)
- Kilobyte (1024 bytes)
- Megabyte (1024 Kilobytes)
- Gigabyte (1024 Megabytes)
- Terabyte (1024 Gigabytes)
- Petabyte (1024 Terabytes)
- Exabyte (1024 Petabytes)
- Zettabyte (1024 Exabytes)
- Yottabyte (1024 Zettabytes)
As you can see, the scale of things is quite ordered!
The yottabyte was introduced in 1991 when it was more of a joke, but each year we are getting closer and closer to using it as a measurement. For reference, using a terabyte hard drive in a computer was unimaginable just 15 years ago.
But now, it’s almost essential for standard operation in new desktops and laptops. Even iPhones have a whole terabyte of storage in some instances, although it costs a little extra.
For most people, the most common capacity units that are used on a daily basis are megabytes and gigabytes. A movie, for example, is around 2 gigabytes of digital storage, while a photo on Instagram may be around 5-10 megabytes (or less).
Scaling up, Google’s entire data storage capacity is something around an exabyte (although these numbers are an estimation since Google doesn’t release its figures). At current storage capacities, if a data center were large enough to hold an entire yottabyte, it would cover a surface area as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined!
Thankfully, storage capacity grows while the solutions almost always shrink. So, in the future, a dystopian landscape of yottabyte-sized data centers isn’t likely. For another reference to show just how absurd the idea of a yottabyte is, Paul McFedries’ book, Word Spy, calculates that it would take around 86 trillion years to download a single 1 yottabyte-sized file!
Just imagine when humans get to watch the first 1 YB movie! Who knows what kind of wild abilities we will come up with in the future with this level of data?
Will We Ever Use a Yottabyte?
Currently, there isn’t enough data transfer in the world to justify the use of the yottabyte measurement. Generally speaking, the largest data storage centers in the world measure things by petabytes, and it would take 500 million of Google’s data centers to require even the use of a single yottabyte.
Still, there will likely be a time in the future when the yottabyte is needed, and it might be closer than you think. In fact, some scientists speculate that the yottabyte will be required as a measurement within the decade.
Currently, around 25% of all internet traffic is associated with internet streaming, primarily related to Netflix. As more and more people use the internet to stream, and movies and television shows are displayed in higher and higher quality formats, the data requirements will continue to grow.
Is there Anything Bigger than a Yottabyte?
Even though we don’t need a yottabyte in ANY human application right now, we, of course, have a label for it when we do need it. If that doesn’t show you the spirit of humanity, what would?
Even funnier, we already have an officially recognized name for the subsequent two designations: the ronnabyte and the quettabyte. Both have been officially recognized by the International System of Units, the organization that approves and makes these sorts of things official.
Where the yottabyte is equal to 1024, the ronnabyte is equal to 1027 and the quettabyte is equal to 1030. It isn’t known when we will need these types of systems, but maybe humanity will be exploring the depths of space when they are required!