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Watch Out - The Digital Universe Is Huge And Growing Fast

By Minara El-Rahman on June 08, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

If you are thinking that the digital universe that comprises all electronically stored data already is gargantuan, well, fasten your seat belt, because this universe is expanding rapidly.

According to IDC, a research and consulting firm, last year, notwithstanding the global recession, the digital universe expanded 62% to 800,000 petabytes.  What is a petabyte?  A petabyte constitutes a million gigabytes, and is represented by a tower of DVDs going from earth to the moon and back, according to IDC.

And IDC says that this year the digital universe will expand almost as rapidly to 1.2 million petabytes, aka 1.2 zettabytes.  With continued expansion, IDC forecasts that the digital universe in 2020 will be 44 times as large as it was in 2009.

With the tremendous growth in the digital universe come practical concerns and considerations.  For example, there could be challenges in terms of searching for and retrieving needed data.  Because most of the digital universe is unstructured data like images and voice packets, IDC suggests that new methods to add structure to unstructured data, to analyze the inside of information containers and to recognize content (like a person's face shown in a security video) will need to be developed and implemented.

In addition, there will be issues relating to how to manage, store and delete vast quantities of information.  This, of course, is an issue we are dealing with already.

Furthermore, the challenges relating to compliance with governmental regulations and industry rules as respects maintaining privacy, tracking transactions and retaining records could increase along with the size of the digital universe.  IDC notes that regulation compliance was a $46 billion industry last year alone.

On top of all of this, as the digital universe grows, so does the portion of that universe that requires secure protection.  Indeed, according to IDC, the amount of sensitive data that is not protected but that needs protection is growing at even faster rate than the entire digital universe.

Perhaps the most sobering statistic of all is that while the digital universe is projected to grow by a factor of 44 by the year 2020, the number of IT professionals in the world is expected to grow by only a factor of 1.4 during the same time period, according to IDC. 

So, to meet the coming challenges, those dedicated to the tasks will have to be smart, creative and ahead of the tsunami of information to enter the digital universe (to mix metaphors).

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Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP( where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes.  His Web site is and he can be reached at  To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.


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