Digital Data is Amazing, Part 2
Last time, we broke down how much data is stored in a typical book, and how much data every book in the Library of Congress contains. This time, let’s really show you what that data consists of, and some other really neat comparisons to put things into perspective. Buckle up!
A Piece of Data is a Bit, but What Is a Bit, Really?
Last time, we mentioned that data is composed of ones and zeroes, called bits. There are 7 bits in an English character, and 8 bits in a byte. Why do we break down bits by simple ones and zeroes?
Throughout most of the last 70 years, and technically even before that, we’ve stored digital information in a very simple, easy-to-comprehend way. Imagine a row of 7 lights. Any single light can either be lit up, or dark. There is no in-between. A one, or a zero. Depending on which lights are lit and which lights are dark, gives you a different character. It could be a number, it could be a letter, or it could be a symbol. Now multiply that row of 7 lights thousands, or millions, or billions of times, and you’ll have a massive array of lights that can convey large quantities of data.
For the last 70 years, most of our data storage has used this concept, mostly by using magnets.
Inside the traditional mechanical hard drive are multiple spinning platters. To the common eye, they look sort of like CDs stacked on top of each other. They spin incredibly fast, usually at 72,000 RPM. On these platters are billions of tiny little magnets. There’s a little arm that floats just over top of the platter as it spins, and it reads and manipulates the magnets as you read and write data to the drive.
The sensitivity of this device is absolutely incredible. Imagine taking a single human eyelash, and holding it in the palm of your hand. Your hand wouldn’t even recognize its weight, right? If we were to cut that eyelash into 100 little pieces, and place one of those pieces on the arm of a hard drive, it would dramatically bend it. This arm is designed to detect forces billions of times smaller than that.
Kinda makes you realize the importance of data backup, right?
This miraculous little marvel of engineering has been the cornerstone of data storage in every single computer over the last several decades.
More recently, modern computers have started using Solid State Drives (SSDs) which store data as an electrical charge in tiny little transistors. These drives don’t rely on mechanical movement or magnets, which is much better for mobile devices as it uses less electricity and can survive being jostled around much more in your pocket compared to a mechanical drive.
Either way, these devices contain billions or trillions of pieces of information.
How Much Data Can I Hold in My Hand?
Last time, we came up with the amount of data of all of the books in the U.S. Library of Congress. It was about 51 Terabytes based on our estimates. We said that, right now, you can’t really hold that much data in a mobile device. You could, however, hold that much data in the palm of your hand.
Take a look at the image above for this blog post. That’s a Micro SD card. Many digital cameras, smartphones, and other mobile devices use them to store data. At the time of writing this blog, you can purchase a Micro SD card that stores 1 Terabyte of information in a form factor that is about the size of your own thumbnail. 1 Terabyte could hold just under a 50th of the entire Library of Congress.
One of these tiny little cards can hold about a million books.
Dozens of these little Micro SD cards can fit into the palm of your hand—you could easily keep hundreds of them in your pockets.
If you weren’t the reading type, you could use your 1 Terabyte Micro SD card to hold:
- 200,000 songs
- 250 full-length movies in full HD
- 5 million pages of PDF documents
- 250,000 photos taken with a 12 megapixel camera
- Essentially every video game from the 80s and 90s.
- Or you could store 10,000 copies of Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95.
How Much Data Has Humanity Produced?
As of the end of 2020, the entire digital footprint of all of humanity is 44 zettabytes. That would require 44 billion of those 1 TB Micro SD cards. By the end of this year, that number will have doubled. By 2025, it’s estimated that our digital footprint will be higher than 200 zettabytes.
We produce a massive amount of data. With more than 62 percent of the world population on social media, and 300 billion emails sent every day, information is constantly being moved around.
Every single minute, 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. That equates to approximately one of those 1 TB Micro SD cards every minute.
Data is Critical To Your Business
Every day, your business generates data. Your staff sends and receives emails, produces documents, updates and stores customer information, and so much more. That data is fundamental to keeping your business operating smoothly.
That’s why data backup is so important. It’s so easy to lose all of your data. Ensuring that your data is properly backed up will ensure that you can continue operations in the event of a mistake, hardware failure, or major disaster.
If you want to discuss properly backing up your organization’s data, give us a call at 651-234-0895.
Digital Data is Amazing, Part 1
Do you ever think about how incredible technology is? In a world where it’s easy to take advantage of technology and devices that were practically inconceivable just a few short decades ago, it’s really amazing to just look at how far we’ve come, and how something so small can fit so much information.
Breaking Down What Data Actually Is
Let’s go back to before there were modern computers and smartphones. The prominent form of data storage throughout the centuries has been the book.
A typical novel has somewhere between 60,000 and 110,000 words (unless you are reading something by Brandon Sanderson—his novels tend to be three or four times that).
How much data is that though? If you want to parse this down into smaller numbers, we can look at one of the most common forms of bite-sized information on the planet, the text message.
A text message has a maximum length of 160 characters. You can usually squeeze 1-3 sentences into that on average. Characters in the English language are 7-bits. A bit is represented by a 1 or a 0. The letter “A” is translated to 01000001, and “B” is 01000010. We’ll get back to this shortly.
A text message can contain a maximum of 160 characters, or 1120 bits (1120 ones and zeroes). There are 8 bits in a byte, which means a text message is 140 bytes.
There are 1,000,000 bytes in 1 Megabyte. Figure that the average word is around five characters, so a novel could have somewhere between 300,000 and 550,000 characters
Take 550,000 characters and multiply that by 7 (the number of bits in a character) and then divide the result by 8 (the number of bits in a byte) and you’ll get 481,250 bytes, or 0.48125 Megabytes.
That means a book on the larger side of things is technically around half a Megabyte of information. Once you add some of the hidden meta information, the cover, and some other data, a typical ebook sits around 1 Megabyte. If there are illustrations or images, then there is a lot more to calculate, so we’ll just assume that we are dealing with text for this thought experiment.
How Much Data Does a Library Hold?
Many books are much larger than the average novel, considering that there are textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, massive reference books, and a lot of other larger format texts out there. Plus, it’s easier to work with round numbers, so let’s just assume that on average, a book rounds out to about 1 Megabyte.
A typical library tends to hold somewhere between 5,000 and 500,000 books. The world’s biggest libraries tend to put their book counts in the millions. The US Library of Congress holds more than 51 million books, and 75 million manuscripts, plus millions and millions of other items.
Let’s assume those 51 million books are all text. How much data would that actually be?
51 million Megabytes is 51 thousand Gigabytes, which translates to 51 Terabytes. It’s pretty common to buy 1 or 2 Terabyte drives for a home PC, so if you were conservative about your data, you could easily fit the entire Library of Congress book library in a pretty small office with 25 or so computers. Of course, you could just put multiple 2 TB drives into your workstations and store the entire Library of Congress on fewer machines too, or build a media server with an array of high-capacity drives… you get the idea.
We’re not quite to the point where a mobile device can hold that much information, but we’re getting there.
Keep in mind, this is just assuming we are taking the text. If instead, you wanted to scan every single page as a grey-scale image, you would be looking at an average size of around 8 Megabytes per book, so it would take about 408 Terabytes to store the Library of Congress. At that point, you’d be looking at a large rack-mounted device or a very small section of a data center.
How Much Data Does Your Organization Produce?
We’re going to make this a two-part blog since there is still a lot more to talk about! Next time, we’ll break down how much data human beings have ever produced, how much data you can fit into the palm of your hand, and more! Be sure to subscribe and bookmark our blog and keep coming back for more!