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IDC: the digital universe will reach 40 zettabytes by 2020

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December 11, 2012

A recent IDC study sponsored by data storage provider EMC suggests that we might need to buy even more storage because the digital universe will reach about 40 zettabytes in less than eight years from now. But don't draw any conclusions too fast.

That's because IDC might be less bullish on the numbers than it was last year. That's about 40 trillion gigabytes of data, and it's estimated to be all the data that will be created, replicated and consumed in 2020.

It's the result of the amount of digital information in the world roughly doubling every two years between now and 2020. However, overall data growth seems to be slowing a bit because last year, IDC and EMC said that the digital universe was sized at about 1.8 ZB and doubling that every two years would imply this forecast:

  • 2013: 3.6ZB
  • 2015: 7.2ZB
  • 2017: 14.4ZB
  • 2019: 28.8ZB
  • 2021: 57.6ZB
  • The amount for 2020 would be 43.2 ZB by interpolation. Now IDC is saying that it will be 40ZB by 2020, so the rate of data growth growth is slowing, it would appear.

    As we all know by now, EMC is very keen on storing data-- after all, that's its bread and butter. Remembering which side of its bread is buttered, and, indeed, who is buttering its bread, IDC pointed out in its annual zettabyte crystal ball gazing that only about 0.4 percent of the world's data is being analyzed, and CIOs should harness their information rather than being paralysed by it.

    IDC added that more and more data in the digital universe still needs protection. Less than 33 percent of it needed protecting in 2010, but 40 percent will need protecting in 2020, meaning 16 ZB of hardened storage equipment will be needed.

    In other IT news

    University researchers at MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories say they have developed the world's smallest transistor made of indium gallium arsenide, a substance they say could replace silicon as the new material for building tomorrow's ultra-fast, miniature microchips.

    The almost microscopic transistor is just 22 nanometers in length, according to a report by MIT's in-house news agency, and it also offers good logic performance, as well as excellent battery life since the new transistor only draws a small fraction of what its previous couterparts did.

    At first glance, that may not sound too impressive, but considering that Intel already uses a 22 nm process to fabricate its newest-generation Core processors, and 14nm is on its way very soon, says Intel.

    However, etching transistors much smaller than that using today's silicon-wafer processes will be very tricky, because the smaller the transistors get, the more difficult it's for them to handle power efficiently.

    MIT researchers believe that we are fast approaching a brick wall, after which point shrinking silicon transistors any further will be almost impossible.

    But it should come as no surprise that scientists all over the world have been searching high and low for practical alternatives to silicon. Graphene, gallium nitride, molybdenite, even carbon nanotubes are currently being considered as potential alternatives.

    For its part, indium gallium arsenide has long been a promising candidate because its ability to conduct electrons is superior to silicon's at the nanometer scale-– about five times better in fact.

    The material is already widely used in fiber-optic applications and in radar systems. However, the challenge has been determining how to create transistors with it that are small enough to be usable in today's smallest microprocessors.

    Jesus del Alamo and his team at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science think they have found that method. First, they used molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) to grow a thin layer of indium gallium arsenide.

    They then used a combination of electron beam lithography and a technique whereby evaporated molybdenum is fired at the wafer to create the three electrodes that make up the transistor-- the gate, the source and the drain.

    Del Alamo says that although none of these techniques is really a true novel in the semiconductor industry, their use with non-silicon compounds has not been explored much so far, mainly because traditional applications of indium gallium arsenide don't require the tiny components that microchips call for.

    "But when you're talking about integrating billions of tiny transistors onto a single chip, then we need to completely reformulate the fabrication technology of compound semiconductor transistors to look much more like that of silicon transistors," he says.

    According to del Alamo, the group's next step will be to try to shrink the size of the transistors it can produce even smaller than 22nm, with the ultimate goal of reducing them to below 10nm, if that's feasable at all, that is.

    Should they succeed, however, there's still one hurdle to overcome before chips based on the new material go mainstream-- namely, that indium gallium arsenide – which is composed of the elements indium, gallium, and arsenic – is currently as much as 10 times as expensive as the equivalent amount of silicon.

    Those chips can be very small, but they are very expensive. Del Alamo and his group will present their findings at the International Electron Devices Meeting, taking place this week in San Francisco.

    Source: IDC Market Research.

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