Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Size of Data - Zettabyte?

I spent a few hours this past weekend helping my wife clean out our home office.  In all the clutter, she found a case for 3.5" floppy disks containing about 50 disks. While we perused the labels on the disk - HP Printer Driver Disk 1 of 3, GIS Topics (senior elective), endless blanks - we searched the house for a computer with a disk drive capable of determining the need to keep any of them.  Of the 3 computers in our home, we came up empty handed.  

After chatting a bit about the need to keep things we didn't even know existed in the first place, my wife relented and I threw them in the garbage.  Then I promptly removed them from the garbage. As my wife brought to my attention, the same person who's going to rummage through garbage to find personal information, probably has a drive that somebody else threw away. So, as I began destroying the disks, I contemplated the size of the data they contained.  After all, it's interesting to see how technology, and storage, has developed over the past years or decades.

Over the past 20 years, we've witnessed the size of data and what we store grow to astronomical levels - levels that even require the invention of new words.  From kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes to zettabytes - One zettabyte is equal to one million petabytes, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual bytes. (The yotabyte is next.)

To give you an idea of the amount of data we capture with the system, I've compiled a table presenting rates given the camera and laser frequencies:

Measurement Frequencies
50 kHz
100 kHz
200 kHz
Camera Rates

Cameras Off
3 MB per second
6 MB per second
12 MB per second
1 frame per second
13 MB per second
16 MB per second
22 MB per second
2 frames per second
23 MB per second
26 MB per second
32 MB per second
3 frames per second
33 MB per second
36 MB per second
42 MB per second

Looking at these numbers, it would take about 0.034 seconds to fill up one of those disks I threw away - when the system is working at peak performance. Our operators would need fast hands and a steady supply to keep up with the system. Thankfully, we have a constant supply of hard drives to transfer information from the vehicle to our processing facilities. 

With the advancements in computer processors, memory, video drivers and software, we have come a long way with what we're able to effectively manage.  The slide show prepared for Baker's 70th Anniversary provided me a glimpse of where we've been...  

I can't imagine processing Mobile LiDAR data with that computer - although it cost significantly more than the systems we use today.

Happy 70th Baker!  Here's to another 70!

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