Inside the Internet
What’s After Terabytes and Petabytes? And when?
Jul 30th, 2019
Let’s start with the basics: bits and bytes. Bytes are used to measure data - not to be confused with bits, which measure data rates or broadband speeds. A bit is pretty tiny — think the size of a character, like the letter “i,” and a byte is eight times as big, like the word, “internet.”
Most people are familiar with megabytes (1,000,000 bytes), gigabytes (1,000 megabytes) and even terabytes (1,000 gigabytes). (By the way, you can see a breakdown of all the data terms on this byte chart.)
As our data consumption grows, we’re quickly needing to become familiar with terms for larger amounts of storage. So, what comes after the terabyte? As of 2018, the yottabyte (1 septillion bytes) was the largest approved standard size of storage by the System of Units (SI). For context, there are 1,000 terabytes in a petabyte, 1,000 petabytes in an exabyte, 1,000 exabytes in a zettabyte and 1,000 zettabytes in a yottabyte. And one yottabyte can hold more than 45 trillion 25-gigabyte Blu-ray discs.
But what comes after the yottabyte?
Two proposed names for the next levels are hellabyte or brontobyte (1,000 yottabytes). Forbes noted that the names have less-than-scientific origins — the hellabyte, is derived from having “a hell of a lot of bytes” and the brontobyte is named after Brontosaurus, the largest dinosaur. As of 2017, there was nothing measurable on the hella/brontobyte scale. But Cisco estimated that brontobytes could be used as soon as 2020 — so we’re still not there yet.
And what happens when the amounts of data exceed scientific names that correlate with their size? Forbes addressed this in 2013 while projecting the next tier of data: a geopbyte (1,000 brontobytes).
Why do we need that many byte sizes?
As computing power expands (think: self-driving cars, smart homes, connected cities) and the ability to measure the data-filled world increases, we are going to create much, much (much, much) more data. So we’ll need new names for the ways we measure that data.
Let’s talk about the increase of data in understandable terms: music. Spotify reports having 35 million songs on their platform. If the average 4-minute song in 320kbps stereo takes up almost 20MB of space, Spotify stores 70,000TB. That’s a lot of bytes. And artists are producing more songs every minute, with 40,000 new songs being uploaded to Spotify every day.
Music isn’t the only data added to the internet each day, obviously. A 10 minute 4K video is 3.5GB and about 400,000 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube everyday. As newer technology emerges, all that intelligence is stored on servers in terabytes, petabytes, exabytes...you get it.
Remember how bytes measure the storage of data and bits measure the rate of transferring that data? Say you wanted to send 200MB of data (about 50 iPhone pictures) over your 200mbps internet connection - this isn’t going to take a second. It will take eight times one second, because bytes are eight times larger than bits (so, okay, eight seconds).