Almost 1 Zettabyte – or 988 Exabytes (988-billion Gigabytes) – of digital information will be created by 2010.

IDC research sponsored by EMC shows that the 2006 digital universe was 161-billion Gigabytes (161 Exabytes) in size, with a more than six-fold annual information growth forecast to 2010.

Interestingly, while nearly 70% of the digital universe by 2010 will be generated by individuals, organisations will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability and compliance of at least 85% of the information.

The research is the first that measures and forecasts the amounts and types of digital information created and copied in the world – and whether it is generated from individuals or businesses.

A key finding of th survey is the fact that, in 2006, 161 Exabytes of digital information were created and copied, continuing an unprecedented period of information growth.

This digital universe equals approximately 3-million times the information in all the books ever written – or the equivalent of 12 stacks of books, each extending more than 93-million miles from the earth to the sun.

According to IDC, the amount of information created and copied in 2010 will surge more than six-fold to 988 Exabytes, a compound annual growth rate of 57%.

While nearly 70% of the digital universe will be generated by individuals by 2010, most of this content will be touched by an organisation along the way – on a network, in a data center, at a hosting site, at a telephone or Internet switch, or in a backup system.

Organisations – including businesses of all sizes, agencies, governments and associations – will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability and compliance of at least 85% of the information.

"This ever-growing mass of information is putting a considerable strain on the IT infrastructures we have in place today,” says Frank Touwen, CEO of EMC South Africa . “This explosive growth will change the way organisations and IT professionals do their jobs, and the way we consumers use information.

"Given that 85% of the information created and copied will be the responsibility of organisations and businesses, we must take steps as an industry to ensure we develop flexible, reliable and secure information infrastructures to handle the deluge.”

John Gantz, chief research officer and senior vice-president of IDC, adds: "The incredible growth and sheer amount of the different types of information being generated from so many different places represents more than just a worldwide information explosion of unprecedented scale.

"It represents an entire shift in how information has moved from analog form, where it was finite, to digital form, where it’s infinite. From a technology perspective, organisations will need to employ ever-more sophisticated techniques to transport, store, secure and replicate the additional information that is being generated every day.”

The survey also finds that images, captured by more than 1-billion devices – including digital cameras, camera phones, medical scanners and security cameras – comprise the largest component of the digital universe.

The number of images captured on consumer digital still cameras in 2006 exceeded 150-billion, while the number of images captured on cell phones hit almost 100-billion. IDC is forecasting the capture of more than 500-billion images by 2010.

In addition, camcorder usage should double in total minutes of use between now and 2010.

The number of e-mail mailboxes has grown from 253-million in 1998 to nearly 1,6-billion in 2006. During the same period, the number of e-mails sent grew three times faster than the number of people e-mailing; in 2006 just the e-mail traffic from one person to another – excluding spam – accounted for 6 Exabytes.

There will be 250-million Instant Messenger accounts by 2010, including consumer accounts from which business IMs are sent.

Today over 60% of Internet users have access to broadband circuits, either at home, at work or at school.
In 1996, there were only 48-million people routinely using the Internet. By 2006, there were 1,1-billion users on the Internet. By 2010, IDC expects another 500-million users to come online.

Over 95% of the digital universe is unstructured data. In organisations, unstructured data accounts for more than 80% of all information.

Today, 20% of the digital universe is subject to compliance rules and standards and about 30% is potentially subject to security applications.

IDC estimates that today less than 10% of organisational information is “classified,” or ranked according to value. IDC expects the amount of classified data to grow better than 50% a year.

Emerging economies now account for 10% of the digital universe but will grow 30%-40% faster than mature economies.