Breaking the Next Storage Barrier

Worldwide disk storage systems sales could easily reach an exabyte by next year.

If a recent report from market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) is any indication, we may soon learn to speak of storage in zettabytes.

IDC’s report on the state of the worldwide disk storage systems market says that storage vendors shipped a whopping 197 petabytes of capacity in the third quarter of 2003 alone.

The prefix “peta-” denotes one quadrillion—i.e., 10 to the fifteenth power—or 1000 terabytes. With vendors moving so much storage in a single quarter, it’s possible that next year the storage industry could ship more than an exabyte—i.e., one quintillion, 10 to the eighteenth power, or 1,000 petabytes—in total storage system capacity.

Historical trends favor such a milestone. According to IDC, vendors shipped 175.6 petabytes of storage in the first quarter, 181.6 petabytes in the second quarter, and 197 petabytes in the third quarter. IDC projects in excess of 200 petabytes will ship in the fourth quarter of 2003. While year-over-year storage growth slowed from 49 percent in the first quarter to 36 percent now, even this adjusted rate is enough to crack the exabyte barrier in 2004.

Ironically, consistent growth in demand for storage capacity isn't actually doing vendors that much good, largely as a result of rapid declines in prices for disk storage systems. Worldwide disk storage system factory revenues fell by 0.3 percent in the third quarter of 2003 compared to the year-ago quarter. IDC defines disk subsystems as a set of storage elements including controllers, cables, and host bus adapters associated with three or more disk drives.

Those revenues amounted to $4.8 billion. The worldwide server system market, by contrast, amounted to about $10.8 billion in the quarter, according to IDC.

Storage vendors have tried to fend off the price declines of the sector, however. "Rather than waging price wars, suppliers are increasingly turning to higher-value software services and application integration to gain competitive advantage," IDC analyst John McArthur said in a statement. Price declines have remained below 30 percent year-over-year for the last two quarters, he noted.

Among individual storage vendors, HP leads with 26 percent of the overall market, followed by IBM with 21 percent, EMC with 13 percent, Dell with 6.7 percent, Hitachi with 5.8 percent, and Sun Microsystems with 5.2 percent.

What’s next after the exabyte? First up is the zettabyte—i.e., one sextillion, 10 to the twenty-first power, or 1,000 exabytes—followed by the yottabyte: one septillion, 10 to the twenty-fourth power, or, you guessed it, 1,000 zettabytes.

By the way, you won’t find entries for the prefixes exa-, zeta- or yotta- in the dictionary of record—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—although the OED does have entries for mega-, giga-, tera-, and peta-.

Try checking the OED at this time next year.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.