In 2011 alone, 1.8 zettabytes (or 1.8 trillion gigabytes) of data will be created, the equivalent to every U.S. citizen writing 3 tweets per minute for 26,976 years. And over the next decade, the number of servers managing the world's data stores will grow by ten times.
Those are some of the findings in the fifth annual IDC Digital Universe study that was released today.
Interestingly, the amount of data people create by writing email messages, taking photos, and downloading music and movies is minuscule compared to the amount of data being created about them, the EMC-sponsored study found.
The IDC study predicts that overall data will grow by 50 times by 2020, driven in large part by more embedded systems such as sensors in clothing, medical devices and structures like buildings and bridges.
The study also determined that unstructured information - such as files, email and video - will account for 90% of all data created over the next decade.
The bad news: the number of IT professionals available to manage all that data will only grow by 1.5 times today's levels, IDC said.
The number of people with the skills and experience to manage the fast-growing stores of corporate simply isn't keeping pace with demand, IDC noted.
The study also notes that data security will continue to be a key issue for IT managers.
For example, though 75% of data today is generated by individuals, enterprises will have some liability for 80% of it at some point in its digital life. And less than one-third of all stored data today has even minimal security or protection; only about half the information that should be protected is protected at all, IDC stated.
The good news: new hardware and software technologies have driven the cost of creating, capturing, managing and storing information down to one-sixth of what it was in 2005.
For example, data deduplication and compression technologies have reduced the amount of data transmitted across networks and stored in data centers, while virtualization and thin provisioning (allocating just enough disk array capacity to store data) have increased storage system utilization rates.
"As an industry, we've done a tremendous job at lowering the cost of storing data. As a result, people and companies store more data," said David Reinsel, IDC's vice president of storage and semiconductor research.
Since 2005 annual investments by enterprises in hardware, software and cloud services technologies, along with the staff to manage information, has increased 50% to $4 trillion.
New data capture, search, discovery, and analysis tools will also create data about data automatically, much like facial recognition routines that help tag Facebook photos. Data about data, or metadata, is growing twice as fast as the digital universe as a whole. A gigabyte of stored data can use as much as a petabyte of information, according to Reinsel.
"So, the 1.8 zettabytes includes both what we store and what we don't store. Think about watching a YouTube video or HD movie over cable or satellite," Reinsel said.
For example, during a consumer's "consumption" of information, while watching a movie or YouTube video, metadata is created but not necessarily stored, or is stored for only a few milliseconds.
Currently, cloud computing accounts for only 2% of IT spending. By 2015, though, close to 20% of all information will be attached to cloud services some way, and as much as 10% will reside in a cloud infrastructure, IDC stated.
The next step, Reinsel said, is to enable companies to better extract value out of their mountains of data, via big data analytics.
"This is where real opportunities lie, and where some folks may miss the boat. As soon as big data success stories are advertised and people see that there is gold in their data ... then you will find more companies desiring to put more data online," he said.
But if all a company does is keep storing more data, and are unsuccessful at finding the gold in it, then there will be little if any return on investments in storage and management technology, he added.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.