Filing cabinets stuffed with paper. Stacks of floppy disks. Piles of of CDs and DVDs. Remember when those were your data storage solutions? In today’s digital age, much of our data – including documents, music, and videos – are stored on servers in the cloud rather than taking up space in our homes and offices.
We wanted to visualize the appearance of all that virtual storage space in the real world – how much it would weigh and how much space it would occupy. How many sheets of paper does your digital document represent? How much would the data in your smartphone weigh? And how many boxes of paper are needed to match the storage capacity of Gmail, Facebook, and the entire Internet? Take a look at what we found out.
Short for “binary digit,” a bit is the smallest unit of storage on a computer – too small to be useful on its own. It consists of only 0 or 1 (or off/on, false/true, no/yes).
Short for “binary term,” a byte is a storage unit that groups 8 bits. It is capable of holding a single character (such as “H”).
A kilobyte (KB) is 1,000 bytes. A single sheet of paper can hold about 5KB of text, which represents 5,000 characters in size 10 font with adjusted margins.
A megabyte (MB) is 1 million bytes. One 3.5-inch floppy disk holds 1.44MB of data – which translates into 280 sheets of paper (just over half a ream).
A standard 15-by-12-by-10-inch storage box holds about 2,000 sheets of paper (four reams), which tips the scale at 20 pounds – about the same as a car tire. All that paper equates to 10MB of data.
A CD holds 700MB of data, which translates into 70 storage boxes filled with paper. Lined up, the boxes are almost as long as a basketball court, and the paper weighs 1,400 pounds – almost as much as a Holstein cow.
A gigabyte (GB) is 1,000MB, or around a billion bytes. An iPhone 1 holds 4GB of data, which is equivalent to 400 storage boxes stuffed with paper. Lined up, the boxes stretch nearly the length of 1.5 football fields.
A DVD stores 4.7GB of data, which equals 470 storage boxes filled with paper. End to end, the boxes surpass the length of 1.5 football fields.
A contemporary smartphone holds up to 128GB of data, or 12,800 storage boxes full of paper. Stacked, the boxes stretch between the World Trade Center and the Empire State building (just over 3 miles) and the paper weighs 256,000 pounds – more than a Boeing 757.
A terabyte (TB) is 1,000GB or around 1 trillion bytes. A 2016, high-storage desktop computer could hold 12TB of data, which equates to 1.2 million storage boxes filled with paper. Lined up, the boxes reach from New York City to Boston to Portsmouth, NH – around 284 miles.
Wikipedia – the Internet’s renowned collaborative encyclopedia – contains 33TB of data. This is equal to 3.3 million storage boxes full of paper. End to end, the boxes reach from New York to Chicago (more than 780 miles), and the paper weighs 66 million pounds – nearly as much as three Eiffel Towers.
A petabyte (PB) is 1,000TB or 1 million GB. The FBI’s proposed cloud-based solution to store criminal records contains 1PB of data. This is the equivalent of 100 million paper-filled storage boxes, which stretch 23,674 miles – nearly circling the planet.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has 1.2PB of data, which is 120 million storage boxes stuffed with paper. End to end, the boxes are more than 28,000 miles long.
The entire Netflix catalog is 3.14PB of data – equivalent to 314 million paper-filled storage boxes. Lined up, they extend nearly 75,000 miles, and the paper weighs more than 6 billion pounds – more than eight Empire State Buildings.
The iTunes video storage library holds 12PB of data, which is 1.2 billion storage boxes filled with paper. Side by side, the boxes stretch from Earth past the moon – 284,091 miles.
Global investment banking, securities, and investment management firm Goldman Sachs holds 28PB of data. Physically, this is the equivalent to 2.8 billion paper-filled storage boxes that, when lined up, extend 662,879 miles – nearly enough to circle the globe 27 times.
CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) houses 200PB of data – equal to 20 billion paper-filled storage boxes. Side by side, the boxes stretch around one-fifth of the way to Venus (more than 4.7 million miles), and the paper weighs 400 billion pounds – or nearly 548 Empire State Buildings.
All of Gmail holds 213PB of data. In physical terms, this means 21.3 billion boxes filled with paper. Placed end to end, the boxes reach more than 5 million miles.
All of Facebook’s data – 300PB – equals 30 billion storage boxes stuffed with paper. Lined up, the boxes extend over 7.1 million miles.
Tech powerhouse Microsoft has 300PB of data, which in physical form would inhabit 30 billion paper-filled storage boxes. End to end, the boxes stretch more than 7.1 million miles.
Government-run research center Los Alamos National Laboratory houses 500PB of data – which translates into 50 billion storage boxes filled with paper. Lined up, the boxes extend nearly 11.9 million miles – almost halfway to Venus – and the paper weighs a trillion pounds: the combined weight of every human on Earth.
An exabyte (EB) equals 1,000PB. Global tech giant Google houses 15EB of data – the equivalent of 1.5 trillion boxes stuffed with paper. The boxes, lined up, stretch over 355 million miles – to the Sun, back to Earth, back to the Sun, and almost back to Earth again.
A zettabyte (ZB) equals 1,000 exabytes. The digital universe (including data stored and transmitted on the Internet and its connected devices) holds 12.5ZB of data – and it keeps growing. Storing this data would require more than 1.25 quadrillion paper-filled storage boxes. End to end, the boxes stretch nearly 24 times as far away as Voyager 1 – which is about 12.5 billion miles away.
A yottabyte (YB) is 1,000 zettabytes. The National Security Agency’s massive Utah Data Center houses 1 yottabyte of data – which equals 100 quadrillion paper-filled storage boxes. Lined up, the boxes extend nearly 23.7 trillion miles, or 4.027 light years – past the Sun, nearly all the way to the next-closest star. The paper weighs 2 quintillion pounds (2,000,000,000,000,000,000) – a little less than half the weight of Jupiter’s moon Amalthea.
Storage in Today’s World
As you can see from our calculations, data storage has come a long way. CDs and floppy disks may have served you well, but those days are over. As storage demands have increased, technology has met the challenges of producing innovative, reliable, and secure storage solutions. The good news for you? No need to add a room to your home to store boxes of CDs, bins of floppy disks, and filing cabinets full of paper.
We gathered information about the storage capacities of various digital databases from various sources and converted these databases into sheets of paper by using the conversion of 1 byte to 1 character, fitting 5,000 characters (5KB) onto a sheet of paper using size 10 font and adjusted margins. We then visualized the “length” of these databases by imagining these sheets of paper were placed into 15-inch-long storage boxes and lined up end to end. The length of these boxes was then converted into feet, miles, and eventually light years. We then used a variety of known distances as a comparison of how long these boxes would stretch. Note: Every effort was made to ensure the accuracy of these data. In some cases, they are based on sources that are estimations of databases.
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If you’d like a more concise version of these graphics, please feel free to download a copy of the infographic here.