petabyte drive: hard drive of a computer
You may have heard some rumors that people are looking for petabyte drive units to use for themselves. Maybe you’ve been digging around Tom’s Hardware and see the questions on how much one would cost.
Now, you’re curious. Could you even own a petabyte drive? How much storage is it anyway? What would be the advantage of holding a petabyte drive?
We’re here to answer some of those questions.

How Big is a Petabyte?

You’ve heard of a kilobyte. You know it’s somehow a unit of measuring how much digital data an item uses or stores. It’s pretty small. A byte is smaller. A yottabyte is the largest multiple of a byte. You’ve also heard of other bytes, and know they’re different numbers and sizes of storage.

To understand the size of each multiple of bytes, let’s look at a list.

  • Byte – A single unit of digital information, that’s usually 8 bits.
  • Kilobyte (kB) – A kilobyte is 1000 bytes.
  • Megabyte (MB) – A megabyte is 1 million bytes of data.
  • Gigabyte (GB) – A gigabyte is 1 billion bytes of data.
  • Terabyte (TB) – A terabyte is 1 trillion bytes of data.
  • Petabyte (PB) – A petabyte is 1 quadrillion bytes of data.
  • Exabyte (EB) – An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes of data.
  • Zettabyte (ZB) – A zettabyte is 1 sextillion bytes of data.
  • A Yottabyte (YB) – A yottabyte is 1 septillion bytes of data.

To give you a better idea of what kind of data we’re talking about, here are some concrete examples of the number of bytes used to create certain types of data.

  • A 4 inch by 6-inch digital photo is 6.48 megabytes in size.
  • A 2-hour movie is about 1 gigabyte in size.
  • 16 hours of music would also be about 1 gigabyte in size.
  • The Library of Congress in printed form would be about ten terabytes in size.


How Much Physical Space Would a Petabyte Drive Take Up?

A petabyte of storage wouldn’t take up that much space, as long as we’re talking increments. However, practically speaking, you’d need a massive refrigeration system, and a reinforced floor to run a petabyte drive that wouldn’t burn up.


Advantages of Using a Petabyte Drive

A petabyte drive would provide storage beyond measure. Okay, not literally beyond measure, but a petabyte is more data than the average consumer could ever use in a lifetime or three. It’s more storage than a family of consumers would need through an entire series of generations, branching out as far as all the cousins and second cousins and third cousins twice removed.

But for those rare groups that could benefit from using a petabyte drive, the advantages would be immense, if they have enough physical space to house one.


Gaming Companies

A gaming company that streams games for its customers would find an advantage in having a petabyte drive. Some examples include the following companies.

World of Warcraft

Back in 2009, World of Warcraft was already using 1.3 petabytes of storage to maintain the game. With over 5 million users in 2018, the amount of data World of Warcraft has used since 2009 has grown significantly as more play takes place on the server.

Steam

Steam is an online distribution platform for video streaming, multiplayer gaming, individual gaming, and social media content delivers about 16 petabytes of data weekly to its users. That’s an insane amount of data going out every seven days.


Film and Television


Avatar (the Film)

It’s rumored that Avatar required about a petabyte of local storage for rendering the 3G computer graphics imagery – CGI – effects.

Netflix Streaming

By May 2013, Netflix had something like three petabytes of video “master copies” that compresses and converts into 100 formats for viewing.


The Internet

The Wayback Machine, a digital archive of the internet contained about 15 petabytes of information as of 2016. Dating back to its origins, it contained three petabytes of data in 2009. Those figures tell us how immense the data usage and information on the internet has increased in the past decade, but also demonstrates the massive size of a petabyte of data.


Music

One petabyte of normal length and data size music would take about 2000 years to listen to. Yes, two millennia. That’s a lot of Beatles and Johnny Cash.


The Advantages of a Petabyte Drive

The reality is only major corporations and governments would ever have a real use for a petabyte drive. But for those who do, petabyte drives would be immensely helpful. Currently, these kinds of storage systems, however, are difficult and expensive to maintain.

Eventually, we’ll see better technology reduce the cooling issues, space needed for said cooling, and other challenges. In the meantime, if you need a ton of storage, stock up on your flash drives. Terabyte drives are easily come by for not a lot of money these days.

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