By 2020, there will be 5,200 GB of data for every person on Earth

Only 15% of data will be stored in the cloud by 2020

During the next eight years, the amount of digital data produced will exceed 40 zettabytes, which is the equivalent of 5,200 GB of data for every man, woman and child on Earth, according to an updated Digital Universe study released today.

To put it in perspective, 40 zettabytes is 40 trillion gigabytes -- estimated to be 57 times the amount of all the grains of sand on all the beaches on earth. To hit that figure, all data is expected to double every two years through 2020.

The majority of data between now and 2020 will not be produced by humans but by machines as they talk to each other over data networks. That would include, for example, machine sensors and smart devices communicating with other devices.

So far, however, only a tiny fraction of the data being produced has been explored for its value through the use of data analytics. IDC estimates that by 2020, as much as 33% of all data will contain information that might be valuable if analyzed.

The Digital universe explained

The digital universe includes everything from images and videos on mobile phones uploaded to YouTube to digital movies populating the pixels of high-definition TVs to transponders recording highway tolls. It also, naturally, includes more traditional corporate data, such as banking data swiped in an ATM, security footage at airports and major events such as the Olympic Games, as well as subatomic collisions recorded by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Using business intelligence to analyze data could reveal patterns in social media use, correlations in scientific data from discrete studies, medical information intersected with sociological data, as well as faces in security footage.

"Herein is the promise of 'Big Data' or MapReduce technology -- the extraction of value from the large untapped pools of data in the digital universe," IDC said in the study.

Additionally, data that would be mined has to be "tagged" with meta data to give it context. That would include, for example, adding a date stamp to video surveillance or geolocation information to smartphone photos or video --"basically, some data that puts context around the data we're creating," said Chuck Hollis, global marketing CTO at EMC.

"We're not only going to have to tag more of it, but we're going to have to tag it with better information over time if we want to extract data with value from it," he said.

That opens up a burgeoning career field for data scientists, who will be asked to extrapolate useable information from massive data stores such as consumer buying trends.

Picking up speed

The Digital Universe study, which is sponsored by EMC, was first launched in 2005. For the first three years, it was refreshed on an annual basis. This latest update, however, marks an 18-month lag between study results -- and a huge change in its predictions.

For example, the last version, released in June 2011, predicted the amount of data to be produced by 2020 would be 35 zettabytes, not 40 zettabytes.

Hollis said the new IDC study reveals that for every physical or virtual server corporations have today, they can plan on having 10 times that number by the end of the decade.

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