What is a zettabyte?

A zettabyte is a unit of measurement used by technology professionals and the general public to describe a computer or other device's storage capacity. The number of bytes is equal to 2 to the 70th power, also expressed as 1 sextillion bytes. One zettabyte is approximately equal to 1,000 exabytes or 1 billion terabytes.

The measurement zettabyte (ZB), along with other metric amounts, is determined by the International Electrotechnical Commission, an organization responsible for international standards and conformity assessment for computer and electronic technologies. It sets standards across technology, including measurements for computer storage.

How zettabytes are measured

As a unit of measurement for the storage of computer information, zettabytes measure data in binary form, the language used by most computers to interpret and synthesize information.

The binary system in mathematics is used to translate regular numerals and characters to a system that a computer can understand and that can easily be electronically transferred. Binary is made up of groups of digits that are all either ones or zeros and in combinations of sets of 8. The varying combinations of sequences of bits are codes that correlate to different letters and characters.

Zettabyte usage and scale

Zettabytes describe data storage of extremely large amounts of information and code, also commonly referred to by technology professionals as big data. Big data might include a lot of structured or unstructured data that is collected daily at rapid speeds.

The scale of big data and the internet of things is so massive that many operations occur via artificial intelligence (AI), with little to no human intervention or direction. AI within big data systems may analyze zettabytes' worth of data and perform other actions like decision-making, translating, speech recognition, pattern recognition or machine learning.

As a specific example of the large volume of a zettabyte, the installed base of storage capacity in 2020 has been estimated at 6.7 ZB, while total data created or replicated in 2020 was 64.2 ZB.

IDC has predicted that by 2025, there will be 175 zettabytes of data that needs storage. It will take a combination of cloud, disk, flash and tape to store all of that data.

Prefix and multiplier conversion table

Unit Abbreviation Approximate size
bit b binary digit, a single 0 or 1
byte B 8 bits
kilobyte KB 1,024 bytes or 10^3 bytes
megabyte MB 1,024 KB or 10^6 bytes
gigabyte GB 1,024 MB or 10^9 bytes
terabyte TB 1,024 GB or 10^12 bytes
petabyte PB 1,024 TB or 10^15 bytes
exabyte EB 1,024 PB or 10^18 bytes
zettabyte ZB 1,024 EB or 10^21 bytes
yottabyte YB 1,024 ZB or 10^24 bytes
This was last updated in November 2022

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