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Zettabyte Era

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

The Zettabyte Era is a label coined by Cisco Systems to describe the digital landscape of the 21st century. Depending upon the writer's perspective, the Zettabyte Era is said to have begun either in 2012, when the amount of digital data globally surpassed the zettabyte mark, or in 2016, when the totality of global IP traffic surpassed that figure.

A zettabyte is a digital measurement unit: 2 to the 70th power bytes. It’s about a thousand exabytes or a billion terabytes. In analog terms, this is the equivalent to all the information in all the academic libraries in the United States -- times 500,000.

The Zettabyte Era and the years leading up to it are characterized as times of unforeseen growth in data. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained, from the dawn of human history until the year 2003, humans created about 5 exabytes of information: 0.5% of a zettabyte. Within ten years of that date, 5 exabytes of data were being created every two days, and the rate of increase continues to grow.

According to the World Economic Forum, the digital landscape will reach 44 zettabytes before the end of 2020. The difficulty -- or impossibility -- of dealing with the exponential growth of digital data is sometimes referred to as the zettabyte apocalypse. 

Watch Mohammad Shokoohi's presentation on how big data and IoT are driving the Zettabyte Era.

This was last updated in January 2020

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