Wanted: 40 trillion gigabytes of open storage, stat!

Gigabytes and terabytes are so passé. It’s soon going to be a zettabyte world thanks to all the digital data—images, books, music, movies, video, documents, maps, you name it—that we collect and engage with throughout our lives.

Industry research firm IDC predicts a 50-fold increase in the total amount of digitally stored data between 2010 and 2020. This means that in the next seven years, the world's total data footprint will reach 40 zettabytes (that's 40 trillion gigabytes), and every man, woman and child on the planet will account for some 5.2 terabytes of data whether in the cloud or local storage.

That's a lot of ones and zeroes, and, unfortunately, help is not on the way in the form of some high-tech, sci-fi breakthrough. To wit: Holographic storage will not bail us out in the next seven years. Nope, between now and 2020, the heavy lifting will be done by that venerable mainstay of storage—the mechanical hard drive. And, yes, USB flash drives, SSDs (solid-state drives), optical drives, and even tape backup systems will also remain in play.

None of these technologies is poised for a revolution, but we should see some interesting evolution in various hardware areas. So let's take a peek at the incremental technology improvements that will help humankind reach that magic 40 zettabyte mark.

Next Up: Hard drives: Dull but reliable

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