161bn gigabytes of data generated in 2006

The amount of data in the world could be as much as 988 exabytes (988bn Gigabytes) by 2010, according to a new report. That is nearly one zettabyte.

The IDC report, sponsored by storage company EMC, claims that last year the world's data users created a piffling 161bn Gigabytes (161 exabytes), but is set on a path of 57 per cent compound growth year on year.

The largest slice of the pie was accounted for by the 250bn or so images shot by digicams and cameraphones, not to mention medical scanners and the like. By 2010, this is set to exceed 500bn in number. The amount of footage shot on digital camcorders is also set to double by 2010.

Internet users themselves are expected to grow in number by nearly a third to 1.6bn over the next three years. Developing economies such as China and those in Latin America will also drive this figure, developing 30 to 40 per cent faster than the US and Western Europe.

And communications between all those extra users will add to the data mountain. Email accounts already number 1.6bn, totting up 6 exabytes of data, excluding spam. Instant messaging accounts are pegged to number 250m by 2010, yet this is the thin end of the wedge. In 1998 there were only 253m email accounts.

By 2007, IDC predicts that the amount of information created will for the first time exceed the storage capacity available to store it.

What EMC wants to highlight however, is that businesses will be responsible for this content in some way, making it a problem looking for a solution.

IDC reckons 30 per cent of the world's data is controlled by security applications, and a further 20 per cent subject to compliance and legislative regulation.

"This ever-growing mass of information is putting a considerable strain on the IT infrastructures we have in place today," said Mark Lewis, EMC Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer. "This explosive growth will change the way organizations and IT professionals do their jobs, and the way we consumers use information. Given that 85 per cent of the information created and copied will be the responsibility of organizations and businesses, we must take steps as an industry to ensure we develop flexible, reliable and secure information infrastructures to handle the deluge."

IDC says it calculated the figures from the survey using the study data it already holds about various industries, such as the number of digital cameras sold each year. It then "estimated" how much data was produced by these devices, and then "estimated" further how much of that data was replicated and copied, based on "IDC research and other sources".

You can read the executive summary here (PDF).