What's An Exabyte?

Cisco Systems was out last week with its annual “Visual Networking Index Forecast,” or “VNI,” which aims to put some numbers on the mind-bending enormity of Internet traffic.

The full report goes off in all kinds of interesting directions. This week’s translation walks through some of the language of what’s quickly becoming the even bigger Very Big Numbers of the Internet.


Let’s start with the “Exabyte,” abbreviated “EB,” because that’s where we’re headed between now and 2014. An Exabyte is one quintillion bytes. It’s a one, with 18 zeros behind it.

According to the VNI Forecast, Internet traffic around the globe will reach nearly 64 exabytes per month in 2014. That’s equivalent to 11.8 billion DVDs, 15.8 trillion MP3 files, or 295 quadrillion text messages.

In the hierarchy of numbers, the Exabyte comes after the Petabyte, but before the Zettabyte. (That’s right. Zettabyte. Although “Zappabyte” seems just as effective.)

So: A Gigabyte (GB) is 1,000 Megabytes (MB); a Terabyte (TB) is 1,000 Gigabytes; a Petabyte (PB) is 1,000 Gigabytes; an Exabyte (EB) is 1,000 Petabytes, and a Zettabyte (ZB) is 1,000 Petabytes. And yes, there’s one more after that - the “Yottabyte (YB).” You guessed it: 1,000 Zettabytes. (Which gives new oomph to “yotta, yotta, yotta.”)


What’s spawning all this data? It’s the bits of video, of course. Consider recent headlines: Sony’s new OLED screen is thin enough to wrap around a pencil. Apple sells 2 million iPads in two months. SlingPlayer gets ready to launch on the mobile Android platform.

All kinds of screens, all thirsty for video. How much screen space? Wrap your head around 12 billion square feet of consumer multiscreen surface area by 2014. That’s what the study predicts.

And let’s not forget what the VNI Forecast characterizes as “ambient video,” which was a new one on me. “Ambient video” is streaming video that persists, but mostly in the background: The home-security camera, the nanny-cam, the off!-off!-dogon- the-couch-cam. That traffic is expected to go berserk in the next few years, too.

Another strong implication in this year’s VNI Forecast: transference. What we have on one screen, we’ll want on others - whether those screens are fixed or mobile; whether that video is entertainment or a face-to-face conversation.

On a working level, everything within the VNI Forecast validates that it’s a fast and feisty time to be a video service provider.

On a human-being level, I’m with blogger Seth Godin, who said this in his Memorial Day post: “When does the mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?”

And, as a technology observer, I also wonder: Where do we go after Yotta?