Wednesday, January 6, 2010

new word: petabyte

I spent a few hours today working on the word list for the 2010 Bee. Got to around 1800 potential entries, but still felt the need for some completely new material. James to the rescue! He reads the parts of the newspaper that I normally ignore, and just brought to my attention a new (to me, anyway) word: petabyte, which he found in today's Boston Globe. A petabyte is a unit of digital storage equivalent to one quadrillion bytes, or 1000 terabytes. Remember when megabytes were a big deal? A terabyte is 1024 gigabytes, or 1,048,576 megabytes.

Checking references on line shows that the word has been in use since at least 2001--back when, I think, we still had megabytes on our home computer and thought we were cutting-edge. (An Apple discussion board had the earliest notation that I found:, confirms that a petabyte is 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes.

Claims about the size of a petabyte are hard for me to process, no pun intended. The Apple discussion board claims that two petabytes would hold the entire contents of the nation's academic libraries. Wikipedia states that Google processes 20 petabytes of information a day. I don't know which measurement is more difficult to comprehend, but the two of them together make a staggering contrast.

If you're not already intimidated by the concept of petabytes and their relative commonness in your digital life, consider these even larger numbers, provided by an Apple Forum member named FatDisc. I'm lifting FatDisc's chart, which keys units of measurements to the largest unit in discussion, the yottabyte. (Do you suppose someone looked at it and exclaimed "that's a yottabytes!"?)

yottabyte = 1 yottabyte
= 1024 zettabytes
= 1048576 exabytes
= 1073741824 petabytes
= 1099511627776 terabytes
= 1125899906842624 gigabytes
= 1152921504606846976 megabytes
= 9223372036854775808 Megabits
= 1180591620717411303424 kilobytes
= 9444732965739290427392 Kilobits
= 1208925819614629174706176 bytes
= 2417851639229258349412352 nibbles
= 9671406556917033397649408 bits

The really tough thing to accept here is that the yottabyte is probably just a drop in the binary bucket, compared to what lies ahead. I think I'll put petabyte on the Bee list. Although the composition of the word list is heavily skewed towards more traditional language, petabyte seems almost quaint at this point!

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