THE BLOG

'Insufficient Storage Available': Why the World's Hard Drive Is Nearly Full

04/06/2014 13:36 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

The world of connected everything is swift-approaching. A world where everyday objects - from our toothbrush to our car to our glasses - are able to communicate, save and share data. This is a time of great innovation with an avalanche of ever-smarter devices beginning to move our way, generating more and more data.

It might seem unbelievable but actually 90% of all the data in the world has been generated in the past two years. This is a statistic that seems to be staying roughly accurate, even as time passes, and our ability and inclination to create, download and store information grows apace.

While this is an astounding figure to contemplate and reflects the marvel that is human invention, what this really means is that we are, quite simply, running out of space.

In a world where everything is connecting to everything else, the resulting big data is being hyped as having the ability to solve virtually all our problems. However, by 2016, it's very likely that the hard drives housed in all those connected devices, whirring away in countless data centres, will start to reach their limits. The total amount of digital data generated in 2013 was about 3.5 zettabytes (that's 35 with 20 zeros following). By 2020, the world will generate 40 zettabytes of data annually: more than 5,200 gigabytes of data for every person on the planet. That's the equivalent of 1 million photographs and about 2.6 million novels per person.

That is a truly unimaginable amount but the problem can't be solved by simply building more hard drives. The fact is it's becoming harder and harder on a molecular level to keep squeezing the increasing volume of information onto the same amount of space.

For example, in 1976, Seagate produced its first ever hard drive: it had 5MB of storage and could save about 2 seconds of low resolution video shot on one of today's smartphones, or 2 photos. A 5TB hard drive today can store 2 million smartphone photos, 2.5 million songs and about 1,000 movies - it's actually 1,000,000 times bigger. It's remarkable to think that if we had made the same advances in engine fuel economy in the same time period, on a single tank of fuel we could drive the distance to Jupiter and back. So, while there is no doubt that this is a truly incredible feat of human engineering, at the rate we are producing data, in only a couple of years, it won't be enough.

Nonetheless, all is not lost. Technologies are on the way that may help to heal the breach and each of us can also do more to manage our own storage. With smart, centralised archiving for example - one major Dropbox or Google Drive account or a large external hard drive in the home for the whole family - we can not only make accessing everything simpler by keeping all photos, documents and downloads in one place, we can also minimise the likelihood of duplication and ensure that every precious family photo or episode of Game of Thrones is safely stored and easily available. Something as simple as this more effective management of our personal data should go a long way towards helping ensure that there is enough storage to go around, in the short term, whilst next-generation technologies are being developed for tomorrow's hyper-connected consumers.