What is the largest unit of information? Calculating data storage needs

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data capacities - the largest unit of storage

Regardless of the industry you are in, your organization produces information and lots of it.  Most organizations will already have a digital storage solution in place to cope with the information.  However, as the amount of data grows, you will need to assess how to best store this data continually. Here, in this article, we explain your options for digital information storage and the different types of data measurement units, from the smallest to the largest unit of information.

Computer data is measured in kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes. To help you understand these better, below, we describe the common information units, explain how to calculate storage requirements for your organization, and present the best data storage solutions available today.

How is information stored in digital systems?

Most people have heard of binary.  Binary is a numerical system which is represented by two symbols, either a 1 or a 0. In digital systems, such as a computer, information is represented using the binary numeral system.

The baseline binary unit in which a computer stores data is a ‘bit’. All information, whether it is photos, documents, audio and video, stored by a computer, is converted to a string of bits, also known as binary digits. All information, from the smallest to the largest, is stored as a series of 1s and 0s.

For a computer to increase the size of information stored, bits are grouped into a pack of eight.  This group is known as a byte. A byte is the most widespread unit of data storage.

Binary data is mainly stored on the hard disk drive (HDD, also known as a hard disk or disk drive). Traditionally, an HDD stored data magnetically. Newer devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets, USB flash drives and SD cards, use solid-state (or flash) storage.

Since all digitally stored information is made up of binary numbers, a single number out of place can lead to a file becoming corrupt.

storage capacities growth

Different data storage units from the smallest to the largest

The basic building blocks of data storage and computers are bits. Computers operate in binary digits like combining 0’s and 1’s. When discussing digital information storage measurement units, it is easy to get confused with data storage terminologies.

Here we present the common terms when researching information storage options and a useful table showcasing the different information storage measurement units.

Smallest to largest unit of information – key points

  • The smallest unit of data is a bit (b); its value can be either 0 or 1.
  • The largest unit of information is a ‘yottabyte’.
  • Four bits in a group are called a nibble.  A group of eight bits is known as a byte (B).
  • Since these units are small, to describe data sizes, larger units are typically used, such as kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (1TB).
  • In binary, 1,024 is more easily represented than 1,000.  Consequently, each unit is 1,024 times larger than the next smallest unit rather than 1,000 times.

Comparing data storage sapacites

The following table presents the units of information, from the smallest to the largest:

Unit
Abbreviation
Equivalent to
Typical types of data used in this size range
Bit
b
1 or 0 (on or off)
A True or False Boolean value, or a single binary value
Byte
B
8 bits
A number between 0 and 255 or a single ASCII character
Kilobyte
KB
1,024 bytes
A single text file
Megabyte
MB
1,024 kilobytes
Digital photographs and MP3 files
Gigabyte
GB
1,024 megabytes
Videos and software applications
Terabyte
TB
1,024 gigabytes
Backups of whole systems
Petabyte
PB
1,024 terabytes
Digital distribution services, such as video streaming and telecommunications
Exabyte
EB
1,024 petabytes
The global monthly Internet traffic passed 1 exabyte for the first time in 2004
Zettabyte
ZB
1,024 exabytes
As of 2009, the entire WWW was estimated to contain close to half a zettabyte
Yottabyte
YB
1,024 zettabytes
The largest storage term we currently have. Currently, there is nothing that can be measured on a yottabyte scale.

As you can see, the conversions stray from a standard system such as the metric system. 1 kilobyte doesn’t convert to 1,000 but instead 1,024 bytes.

A ‘bit’ is the smallest unit of information, and the largest unit of information is ‘yottabyte’.

When 8 bits get combined, they form a byte. Bytes can only store a single letter, and it can be punctuation, a letter, or a number. Indeed, bits are the foundation on which digital information storage is built, but bytes are the building blocks that mostly denote the usability of one storage solution.

Now, it’s clear that storage is expressed in bytes, so for larger units, prefixes are added to denote the largest units. There are prefixes above terabyte as well, such as petabyte, denoted by PB, Exabyte (EB), Yottabyte (YB), and zettabyte (ZB).

How much data storage do you need? Calculating storage requirements

When estimating how much cloud storage you’ll need for your data, understanding the differences between each of the data measurement units is crucial. Organizations planning their growth, either through digital transformation or through other means, will need to calculate digital information storage requirements and understand the available options.

Calculating Storage size

When calculating the amount of digital information which can be stored within a specific capacity, three things are required:

  1. The volume of the data being stored
  2. Space (capacity) available for storing the data
  3. How to convert between the relevant storage measurement units

The worked scenarios below provide examples of how these are used to calculate storage requirements.

kb to mb to gb to tb - calculating data storage requirements

Storing digital information

The examples provided should provide you with a good understanding of how to calculate digital storage requirements.  But, what is the best medium to store this data?

As mentioned previously, the smallest unit of measurement of data storage is a bit, but it is negligible for enterprises. Small businesses have more freedom to choose storage options. Small firms can store documents, images, and files in low capacity external drives, USB drives, and CD.

Moreover, they can use online storage options like Google Drive and Dropbox. When we move to medium to large-size businesses, their information storage needs are high. So they don’t only have to consider the budget for buying digital storage devices, but they have to look for physical limitations as well.

storage capacities - largest unit of information data growth challenges

Large digital storage solutions require hard drives, physical servers, cables, and other technology. When your business needs to store petabytes, exabytes, and zettabytes of data, you need to have many hardware devices. The largest unit of information is Yottabyte.

It’s not easy to make a decision, and you have to consider the pros and cons of each storage solution. Nowadays, you can use the other company’s resources and store information on the cloud.

What are the best data storage solutions?

Generally, we have seen an enormous advancement in all areas of technology.  Storage technologies are no different; the biggest hard drive we have 30 years ago can now only store a few modern MP3 files.

Today, personal laptop storage options can store 100,000 times more data than those storage devices of yesteryear. Moreover, technology has replaced large floppy disks with USB drives, memory cards, and portable storage devices.

Companies can choose from a variety of information storage solutions.

  • Direct Attached Storage (DAS) – DAS solutions are the cheapest and most straightforward. The examples of DAS solutions are solid-state drives, high-capacity drives, and optical disk drives. DAS is ideal for small businesses with limited employees because of minimal space obstruction and a low price. The only drawback of DAS is that it doesn’t offer remote access.
  • Network Attached Storage (NAS) – It is a perfect choice for small to mid-size companies because they have more data storage requirements than small businesses. NAS offers remote access from various devices on a network because data is stored in a centralized location. In NAS, some hardware pieces are fitted with multiple hard drives in RAID configuration. All these devices are connected to your computer network. So, if your business requires a centralized storage option, remote access, scalability, file sharing, then NAS is the best solution for you.
  • Storage Area Network – It is the best data storage solution for large companies because large firms have lots of space to store multiple storage disks, servers, and switches. Much like NAS, it allows remote access from various locations. It is the most reliable solution for companies who want quick access to massive data. Moreover, it is better than NAS and DAS because it provides more data security, and is more fault-tolerant ability.
  • Cloud Storage – Generally classified as SaaS (Software as a Service), there is no shortage of Cloud storage applications. Cloud storage involves storing data to an off-site storage system, typically maintained by Cloud Service provider.
To help get you started with Cloud storage, consider a these popular Cloud storage applications and their features:
Dropbox – Dropbox is one of the most popular Cloud storage applications. Dropbox is reliable, easy to set up and use, with a clean interface. Dropbox offers businesses up to 5TB of storage space.
Google Drive – If you are looking to enhance your productivity, then look no further than Google Drive. Google Drive provides a complete set of office productivity tools, such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides, with Cloud storage. Google Drive integrates seamlessly with your Google account, making it exteremely effective to access files whilst on the move. Google drive offers 15GB of free storage for individuals, while for businesses Google Drive offers an unlimited storage option.
Microsoft’s One Drive, Box, and Amazon Cloud Drive are some of the other popular options.
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