Big Data: Running out of Metric System…

by Andrew McAfee on October 31, 2012

I recently came across two very different pieces of evidence showing how big a deal big data is.

The first is the great thirst mainstream organizations have for analytic talent. A friend who works at PWC called me up a little while ago to ask if I knew of any data jocks who were looking for work. She had three jobs she needed to fill (descriptions here, here, and here) and was reaching out to all possible leads. I told her that, unfortunately, I didn’t have any out-of-work data scientists on speed dial. I hear from my friends in high tech that the only people as much in demand as data geeks these days are designers and other user experience geeks. So the best I could do for her was let readers know about these jobs.

The second piece of evidence convinces me that this thirst for talent is not going to be temporary. This is because data volumes keep exploding, and businesses will need folk who can work with ever-greater amounts of data. How fast are they exploding? Well, Teradata was founded in 1979. The company’s name was chosen to convey the massive amounts of data – Terabytes! – its products could work with.

Terabytes seemed like a lot until 2008, when Wired magazine told us about The Petabyte Age:

 

Four years later, the UK edition of the same publication went up a prefix and heralded The Exabyte Revolution:

Perhaps owing to leisurely English editorial calendars, that article was already obsolete when it came out in July of 2012. A couple months earlier, Cisco had published a report about the Zettabyte Era:

This arms race got me curious, so I Russ Rowlett’s web page giving the complete list of prefixes, which were last updated in 1991, at the 19th General Conference on Weights and Measures. It turns out that in the era of big data, we’re about to run out of metric system:

Yotta- , signifying 10^24, is the only metrix prefix left on the list. Only 20+ years ago, we didn’t anticipate needing anything beyond yotta. It seems safe to say that before the current decade is out we’ll need to convene a 20th conference to come up with some more prefixes for extraordinarily large quantities not to describe intergalactic distances or the amount of energy released by nuclear reactions, but to capture the amount of digital data in the world.

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