Supersize My Data! Watch Out Business Analytics

July 26, 2010

Floppy disks photo (business analytics)

Floppy disks photo (business analytics)

If you ever stored kilobytes of data on a floppy disk (and even if you didn’t) the petabyte world can seem amazing and extreme.  Although we now walk around with gigabytes of capacity right in our pockets–and many larger companies have databases in the terabyte range–the jump to petabyte level still requires some effort to imagine.  In case you haven’t thought about orders of data magnitude lately, here’s a quick refresher:

There are different ways to signify orders of data magnitude, but the best-known scale begins with a bit (0/1), puts 8 bits together in a byte (basically, a character), and then collects roughly 1000 bytes into a kilobyte or kB.  Then 1000 kB make a megabyte (MB), 1000 MBs make a gigabyte (GB), 1000 GBs make a terabyte (TB)–and 1000 TBs make up the petabyte (PB).

Or:  1 PB = 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

Or:  1 PB = 13.3 years of HDTV video. 

It’s not likely that PCs and MP3 players will ever need to jump from gigabytes to terabytes of capacity.  But in terms of data storage and processing, the terabyte is already too small to conveniently measure certain things.  For example—every day, Google processes more than 20 petabytes of data and AT&T transfers around the same amount through their networks. Experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider are expected to produce around 15 petabytes of data annually.  And PBs are becoming a common measurement in the entertainment and social media spaces, with World of Warcraft storage and Avatar production processes each taking up more than a petabyte.  Facebook’s photo storage alone is well into the petabyte range.

Relevance for business analytics?  Although the majority of enterprises are not near the PB zone yet, many are headed in that direction.  And new tools that address the special needs of petabyte-plus databases are likely to influence future developments in Business Intelligence (BI) across the board.  So it’s worth keeping a professional eye on news from the world of super-sized data.

For more PB lore, check out the excellent infographic at Mozy.

Cynthia Giles
Spotfire Blogging Team

Image Credit: Microsoft Office Clip Art