Terra Drobo

Feb 17, 2011 BY Eric Gravley
Gigabytes, Terabytes, and the Data Future.

In January, Planet Vox acquired a cool new data storage appliance called the Drobo FS to provide network accessibility and RAID-protecton to all of our project and design files. The Drobo has the speed to allow any users of our four edit systems to edit HD video stored on the Drobo over the Planet Vox CAT-6 gigabit network.

The Drobo has 5 bays and we filled them with 2-Terabyte (2TB) drives, giving us a RAID-protected data capacity of ~5TB. It feels great to be ahead of the data crush for at least a little while. Our hope is that with LTO tapes for project backups, and the capacity to upgrade to 3TB drives in the bays, we can maintain our simple architecture for at least a year. If nothing else, the days of sneaker-netting firewire drives are absolutely, finally over, never to return.

We have had Terabyte drives before, swapping them in and out of eSATA docks, but with the Drobo, we are now talking TBs like GBs and MBs. We have crossed into another realm, call it Tera Firma.

But what's next? That is, what are 1000 Terabytes?

It turns out there is a list of these data units of measure, as defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission:

· 1 Bit = Binary Digit
· 8 Bits = 1 Byte
· 1000 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte
· 1000 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte
· 1000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
· 1000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte
· 1000 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte
· 1000 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte
· 1000 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte
· 1000 Zettabytes = 1 Yottabyte

If you think I am making this stuff up, check out the IEC's Electropedia webpage on Quantities and Units. Interestingly, there are corresponding nano-units. One Yocto-unit is as small as one Yotta-unit is large.

There are many sites on the Internet that describe two units beyond the Yottabyte: the Brontobyte, and beyond that, as if anything could top Bronto, is the Geopbyte. However, I could not find anything about the Brontobyte or Geopbyte on the IEC website.

I did find a fun article from 2004 by Paul Rubens of the BBC, who described a device called the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform (USP) made by Hitachi Data Systems that could presumably store 32 Petabytes of data, enough room according to Rubens for about seven billion MP3s or roughly 50 million movies. Rubens speculated that a Brontobyte, at a million million Petabytes, is "enough to store everything that's ever been filmed, taped, photographed, recorded, written, spoken, and probably even thought."

It's now 2011, and in the seven years since Rubens wrote his article, Hitachi Data Systems has upgraded the USP to the VSP, or virtual storage platform. In one standard 19" equipment rack, a fully-loaded VSP can hold 2.5 Petabytes of data, and be configured to manage 102 other VSP racks or external storage devices, scalable up to 255 Petabytes total. You can pick up a 2.5 PB VSP from SANdirect.com for somewhere between $5 Million and $8 Million, according to Will, my Chat Rep at SANdirect. Perhaps VSPs are what Google uses to keep all of the YouTube videos backed up?

At 255PB up from 32PB, that's just one Petabyte shy of keeping pace with Moore's Law, which posits that chip capacity doubles every two years. There is uncertainty that Moore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, will continue past 2015 or so, but assuming that it does and that storage platforms like Hitachi's VSP keep pace, we'll be storing Exabytes by 2015, Zettabytes by 2035, Yottabytes by 2055, and Brontobytes, if that's what they're really even called, by 2075.

But what will we put on these huge storage platforms? Higher and higher definition video for one. More tweets and retweets, more books and eBooks , more health records, every webpage, every version of every webpage by the day, the hour, the minute, anything and everything that has been and is being created by billions of people, all digitized and saved in the best quality, backed up and RAID-protected. Give Google and Amazon another century to harvest data and expand the Elastic Cloud, and I can imagine solar-powered redundant server farms on the Moon that will contain thousands and thousands of Geopbytes. What will they be called?

Follow That Story...

A new article in the Washington Post reports on a University of Southern California study that estimates the global capacity in 2007 to store digital data at 276 exabytes. The story comes with a graphic showing the breakdown of different kinds of data, including hard discs, DVDs and Blu Ray discs, and data tape.
Looking at the trend line of the graphic, it's easy to see the world will surpass the one zettabyte mark within the decade.