Friday, September 28, 2012

Data deluge measured in "quintillions" as tech companies race to meet the need for speed

By Business editor Peter Ryan

The explosive growth of popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in recent years has created a daily challenge to make data move increasingly faster.

The instant voice messages, photos and videos that ordinary people take for granted are competing for space with the massive amounts of data churned out by businesses and governments.

Technology companies are now racing to install the latest server technology in a cut-throat race to meet the growing need for speed.

And while gigabytes and terabytes might sound big to computer novices, the experts are now using numbers like quintillion to describe the deluge of data.

Apple co-founder and Fusion IO chief scientist Steve Wozniak in Sydney
 Listen to the story from this morning's AM.

David Flynnn, chief executive of the US-listed technology company Fusion IO, can keep a room silent as he explains the mind-boggling measures of data in quintillions.

"It is 18 zeros - one with 18 zeros. That is the equivalent of a billion billion or a million trillion. Why do I use this number - because today the world is generating two and a half quintillion bytes of data every single day," Mr Flynn told AM..

"If bytes were buckets of water, you're talking about it taking just 20 weeks to fill the entire oceans of the planet with data."

It's a far cry from this correspondent's first computer bought in 1992 that came with data storage of just 40 megabytes.

But apart from deeper data and lightning speeds for consumers, businesses and governments, how can better technology improve everyday lives?

David Flynn, who is visiting Australia to drum up business, uses this example of a US client who wanted faster download speeds for a one hour high definition movie.

"They figured if they could get that one hour worth of content down to 15 minutes, that it would be a total win," Dr Flynn said.

"I learned last week that the initial test results, that one hour movie, 39 seconds. They came back and said, you don't understand. This changes our whole business."

Fusion IO boasts some big global clients who need to move real time data, video and audio such as Facebook, Apple and Westpac.

The company also has a big name as its chief scientist - Apple's co founder and speed evangelist Steve Wozniak who thinks today's technology is just the start of a new love affair with mobile devices.

"Consumer products are moving more and more towards that touch of artificial intelligence and in particular speaking to your devices and having your voice sent off to the cloud, recognised and analysed on good computers there and transmitted back," Mr Wozniak said.

"That's a huge amount of data. The more and more we use voice, that's going to be the trend."

It might not be as glamorous as artificial intelligence, but David Flynn says new technology is already at work here in Australia where the supermarket giant Woolworths is getting a much faster reading of its national sales.

"It took them 17 hours to do the analytics each week of what was selling. They wanted this report every Monday morning for the executive meeting so they could look at how things are going," Mr Flynn said.

"But the problem is with 17 hours, they could not incorporate the weekend and the weekend of course was the most important part of the retailing.

"They were able to move that down from 17 hours to three hours."

It's a dry, even boring, example. But faster data processing in retail could mean a better deal at the checkout for consumers.

And the speed of information traffic - along with consumer expectations - is expected to grow once Australia's national broadband network is finally rolled out.
Twitter: @peter_f_ryan

1 comment:

  1. Firstly, I doubt experts really are using stupid words like "quintillions", except to confound idiots and/or support grant proposals. If a "quintillion" is 10^18 then the correct prefix is exa, as in exabytes (although in computer terms it should be 2^60, which is 15% more than 10^18). Also, the analogy of a bit to a bucket of water (10 kg) is ridiculous. Even 10 kilos of punchcards could encode at least kilobytes of data.

    Secondly Steve Wozniak's comments are nothing but spruiking for services people could access for free with simple software that has been available for decades. Instead, apparently we are to give away our personal data to private corprorations so that they can freely sell our identities for profit in exchange for giving us a "free" service.

    To put it in perspective, a "quintillion" bytes is a million person-years of voice data-- under Wozniak's scenario, none of which would even need to enter the Internet if it wasn't for the artificial scarcity that has brought about "the cloud".

    Thirdly, could I ask, why are my taxes being paid to "drum up business" (your words) for a snake-oil salesman?


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