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The world generated 64.2 zettabytes of data last year - but where did it all go?

26 Mar 2021

Humans and computers generated more than 64 zettabytes of data in 2020 - that’s the equivalent of 6.4 trillion gigabytes or simply put, more images or videos than the average person takes in their lifetime.

Such a massive figure not only reflects what IDC calls ‘unusually high’ growth of data as people lived and worked almost entirely home, but it also poses one important question: Where is all that data stored?

IDC figures show that less than 2% of this data was saved or retained into 2021. That means that most data was essentially created to be consumed, or cached and overwritten with new data.

IDC Global DataSphere senior vice president Dave Reinsel says that the impact of data generation from 2020 will be felt for several years - and the important takeaway is that storage is going to be a major issue.

"The amount of digital data created over the next five years will be greater than twice the amount of data created since the advent of digital storage. The question is: How much of it should be stored?"

Global data creation and replication will grow 23% between 2020 and 2025, with much of this growth coming from IoT data such as security cameras, and social media.

However, the StorageSphere will not keep pace, with expected growth of 19.2% over the same period.

IDC also predicts that the enterprise DataSphere will grow twice as fast as the consumer DataSphere because more organisations are using the cloud for both consumption and storage. Data at the edge is also growing almost as fast as data in the cloud.

According to IDC Global DataSphere research vice president John Rydning, the Global StorageSphere installed base of storage capacity reached 6.7ZB in 2020. While it is growing, its growth is slower than data generation growth. As such, the world is saving less data than it creates.

"Organisations should consider preparing now to store more data as they seek to achieve digital transformation milestones and improve business metrics by accelerating innovative data analytics initiatives."

IDC says it is important to store data for three reasons: Digital resiliency, innovation,  and employee and customer satistfaction. 

Digital resiliency means that organisations can capitalise on changing conditions and business disruption because, IDC says, business is dependent on data.

Data also fuels innovation by enabling organisations to see where they are heading and new possible revenue streams.

Data is also the source from which organisations monitor the ‘pulse’ of employees, customers, and partners to ensure satisfaction and loyalty.

“Many organisations believe there is latent, potentially unmined value from analysing older data. Yet the cost to store more data holds organisations back from modifying their data retention policies that would lead to retaining data longer,” IDC states.

Until organisations show a positive ROI in data analytics initiatives, this could hold back the StorageSphere.

“Proven ROI on analytics initiatives would buttress the need for storing more data or retaining data longer.”