The 'digital universe' shows explosive growth

The 'digital universe' - information created by users stored in computer systems around the world - is growing at an explosive rate, which will have a major impact on businesses and consumers, according to IDC.

This information-based universe is currently estimated to be 281 billion gigabytes (281 exabytes) in size, with an annual growth rate of almost 60 per cent,

Indeed, by 2011, the digital universe will experience a 10-fold increase from 2006 figures, according to IDC.

"To give you an idea of what an exabyte might be, if you consider a digital bit is binary - zeros and ones - and is a grain of sand, an exabyte might be the size of the eastern seaboard coast of the US," said Dave Gingell, vice president of EMC, which sponsored the research.

The report suggested that it is businesses that are responsible for the security, privacy, reliability and compliance of 85 per cent of the data in the digital universe. This indicates a massive responsibility, even though the report went on to say that 70 per cent of data is created by individuals rather than companies.

"These findings indicate that businesses really need to get a handle on their responsibilities in terms of how they ingest information into their organisations and how they manage it," said Gingell.

"They need to ensure that everybody in the business understands their responsibilities. It isn't just the IT departments that have to manage information. The information needs to be protected and secure."

The findings also indicated that, as the digital universe grows in size and complexity, organisations need to develop and evolve policies for information governance such as information security, information retention, data access and compliance.

"These policies can reflect and be complicit to industry regulations, good government practice, related to a legal framework," said Gingell. "But the message also is to take a look at the tools that are out there to help you manage this explosion of information and also maintaining the security aspect of the information that you hold."

The research also examined how society and the digital universe interact with each other, addressing how individuals actively participate in contributing to the universe. People leave a 'digital footprint' when they use the internet, social networks, mobile phones, email and cameras and when they conduct financial transactions.

The white paper also highlighted the passive contributions users made to the universe, which has been dubbed their 'digital shadow.'

"We discovered that only about half of your digital footprint is related to your individual actions - taking pictures, sending emails, or making digital phone calls," said John Gantz, chief executive and senior vice president of IDC.

"The other half is what we call the digital shadow: information about you, names in financial records, names on mailing lists, web surfing histories or images taken of you by security cameras or urban centres. For the first time your digital shadow is larger than the digital information you create about yourself."