The Real Size of a Yottabyte

After Edward Snowden made the accusation that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on companies around the world, including Petrobras in Brazil, several reports from various places around the world, including Brazil, targeted the US agency.

To understand better see this Fantástico report published on 15/09/2013.

https://youtu.be/cq4VAOePoz8

As shown in the above report, the United States National Security Agency was creating a Data Center with the capacity to store all the information of humanity. This would require the volume of data stored by the Data Center to reach something close to 1 yottabyte.

To get an idea of how much data a yottabyte is see the table below:

As an expert in the field of data recovery on raid servers, I wondered how big a data centre would be to be able to store this monstrous volume of information.

When doing the math I came across a very intriguing result. To have 1 yottabyte of storage capacity what would be the number of disks, storages, racks, infrastructure and physical space required for all this?

Let’s do a quick math. A large 44U rack can fit 22 2U Storages. Considering that each storage can hold up to 24 disks, we have then (22*24) a total of 528 disks per rack. As these disks are configured in Raid systems, we will consider a redundancy of 1 disk every 12 and 1 hotspair disk in each storage. 

Then we will have 22 Storages with 21 disks available for storage in each rack, being a total of (22*21) 462 disks per rack. If each disk is 4 Terabytes (462*4) we will have a total of 1860 Terabytes per Rack. To follow the reasoning see the table below:

If a rack of disks contains 1.86 Petabyte, to have 1.86 Exabyte we just need to multiply the number of Racks by a thousand. To get 1.86 Zettabyte we need to multiply the number of racks by one thousand again and so on. In other words, to have 1.86 Yottabyte we would need to have 1 billion racks with 528 disks each. That is, 528 billion 4 TB disks.

Although we consider this number absurd, let’s try to find the other variables for a data centre with this capacity to be built. Let’s assume that each rack is 1 square meter. In addition to the 1 square meter of the rack, we also need at least another 1 square meter for the access aisles and opening doors of the rack. 

If we consider this measurement we will need nothing more than 2 billion square metres. If we convert from square metres to square kilometres we will arrive at the colossal figure of 2,000 square kilometres.

Even if these racks are placed in a 20-story underground building, a 100 square kilometre structure would be required to house the racks alone. Not to mention that a dedicated hydroelectric power plant would be required to support the 528 billion hard drive structure alone.

According to the ISP Blog site the world’s largest data centre is housed in an area smaller than 1 square kilometre.

The possible conclusions we can reach after all these calculations is:

  • Or all these reports of Data Centre with a Yottabyte is a big fake or rumour propagated all over the international press.
  • Or the US is using technologies that are not yet commercially available. In other words, they have developed a storage technology that allows them to store millions of terabytes and have not made these technologies available to be sold on the market, keeping them for exclusively military use. This has already been done with countless technologies such as the computer itself and GPS.

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