CIOs face challenges as data needs surge

By Mike Miliard
10:39 AM

Earlier this year, Healthcare IT News reported on a study, sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and Dell, that found many hospitals to be ill-equipped for the storage and security posed by the "wave of data" that's expected as healthcare goes increasingly digital.

That surge is growing apace. And new studies indicate that its sheer size will only continue to pose challenges for CIOs and their servers. This week, EMC Corp. and IDC announced the results of an annual study that measures the growth of digital information not by terabytes or petabytes, but "zettabytes" – a unit of storage equal to one trillion gigabytes.

The study, titled "The Digital Universe Decade – Are You Ready?" put some of these numbers into context. The amount of digital information created in 2010 (1.2 zettabytes worth) will equal:

  • The digital information created by every man, woman and child on Earth “Tweeting” continuously for 100 years. 
  • 75 billion fully-loaded 16 GB Apple iPads, which would fill the entire area of Wembley Stadium to the brim 41 times, the Mont Blanc Tunnel 84 times, or the CERN's Large Hadron Collider tunnel 151 times.
  • A full-length episode of FOX TV’s hit series "24" running continuously for 125 million years
  • 707 trillion copies of the more than 2,000-page U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into Law in March 2010. Stacked end to end, the documents would stretch from Earth to Pluto and back 16 times or cover every inch of the United States in paper 3 feet deep.

The study found that just in the last year alone, even amid the recession, the size of the digital universe grew by 62 percent. Going forward, the amount of that information will grow 44-fold – from less than one zettabyte in 2009 to 35 zettabytes in 2020.

Compare that to the number of IT professionals in the world, which will concurrently grow only by a factor of 1.4, and the problems posed for CIOs become apparent.

Thirty-five percent more digital information is created today than capacity exists to store it (a number that will jump to over 60 percent over the next several years). Moreover, the percent of digital information requiring security beyond baseline levels will grow from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020.

But the study also highlighted opportunities – especially in a move toward private cloud computing environments, where more than a third of all data each year will either live in or pass through the cloud.

The study found that a reprioritization of IT spending to focus on cloud computing could stimulate significant incremental revenue going forward, perhaps driving more than $1 trillion in increased business between now and the end of 2014 as companies reduce the portion of their IT budget devoted to legacy system maintenance.

“This year’s Digital Universe study exposes many of the most pressing short- and longer-term strategic issues CIOs grapple with as they map out their IT strategies and investments," said Joe Tucci, EMC's chairman and CEO. "They’re quickly discovering that, to remain in the game, they need to do things differently, transforming traditional infrastructures into private cloud data centers that offer internal and external customers IT as a service. Private cloud computing, the next major wave of IT, takes them there, promising new and increasingly automated ways for enterprises and consumers to manage and secure this unyielding onslaught of information."

Read the entire study here.

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