What Is a Petabyte?

The next storage unit to consider is what’s known as a petabyte.

The prefix “peta” is the measurement unit for one quadrillion, or 10 to the power of 15.

Since this is 1,000 units of one trillion (tera), then one petabyte is equivalent to 1,024 terabytes. That’s one quadrillion bytes.

You would think this volume of information could never be used. However, there are petabytes of information flowing through computer systems and networks today, however hard that may be to believe.

But consider the following modern applications of petabyte sized technology:

Google processes over 24 petabytes of information every day.
Mobile phone networks transmit over 20 petabytes to and from users every day.
The Blue Waters supercomputer has over 500 petabytes of tape storage.
The United States Library of Congress contains over 7 petabytes of digital data in its archives.
World of Warcraft servers require over 1.5 petabytes of storage to run its online game.

The scale of a petabyte is hard to wrap your head around, but once you consider the scenarios above, it becomes quite clear just how much data is involved.

A single petabyte could store over 10,000 hours of television programming. If you filled an entire four-drawer filing cabinet with documents filled with text, you could fit 20 million of those file cabinets into a petabyte.

In fact, you could store every single written manuscript created by humanity since the beginning of recorded history in 50 petabytes.

That’s a lot of data.
Understanding Memory Terminology

It’s important to understand the units of memory because it’s used everywhere where there’s technology these days. Any time you buy a computer, a mobile phone, or a tablet, the specifications are all written in terms of memory storage, and how much data the technology can transmit.

If you understand all these terms, then you’ll know just how much better one computer is than other. You’ll appreciate how much better a 4G mobile network is than a 3G one. You’ll appreciate how much more you’ll be able to store on a 1 terabyte memory card rather than a 500 megabyte one.

As technology continues to advance, it’s possible there will be new units of memory to learn about. But for now, these terms are all you’ll need to know.

And if you’ve gotten this far, you should jump over to an article we’ve written about understanding network transfer speeds, which consists of megabits per second, gigabits per second, etc. This will help you understand when your ISP tells you that your download speed is 15 MBps. Enjoy!

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