How Much Data Does Google Store?

Updated on 1-20-16

The average personal computer comes with about 500GB of storage, but the age of physical storage is on its way out. The time for cloud storage has arrived. Despite the “cloud” being thrown out a lot in conversation, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion regarding the quantity of data that actually exists in the cloud.

Let’s just look at the example of Google for simplicity’s sake. I doubt there is another company or organization that stores more data in the cloud than Google. But have you ever wondered just how much data they store in their servers? Most people would have no idea how to answer if a stranger came up to them on the street and asked, “How much data does Google store?” How would you respond? I know I would probably stumble over my words and then answer with something along the lines of, “Ummm… a whole lot?”

It’s tough to answer that question quantitatively because we can’t imagine what that amount of storage would look like or even how to measure it. Can you name the unit of digital storage larger than a terabyte? I couldn’t either because I have never had to deal with it.

To answer the Google question, it’s necessary to think about storage as something tangible not just bytes in a data center somewhere. Let's take a peek inside one of their centers.

Do you see that tiny looking bike? That's for adults to travel around the center faster, because it takes too long to walk around the whole building. And the fun colors? They double as a labeling system (as well as simply improving the look of the place). Check out this tour that a reporter from Wired went on if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of what a Google data center looks like.

We should note that Google does not have the largest data center in the world. If you're curious to see who does, we've written another post to tell you all about who does.

So that's what the data center looks like, but how big is the actual data?

Take a look at the following question posed by James Zetlen in an article on ‘What If?’ concerning this topic:

If all digital data were stored on punch cards, how big would Google’s data warehouse be?

 

While Google doesn’t provide numbers on how much data they store in server farms, the folks at what if? did some educated guessing to get a rough estimate. They used capital expenditures in remote locations and electricity consumption to measure the quantity of data centers and the number of servers at each respectively.

Using this method, they determined that Google holds somewhere around 10-15 exabytes of data. If you are in the majority of the population that doesn’t know what an exabyte is, no worries. An exabyte equals 1 million terabytes, a figure that may be a bit easier to relate to. Using our estimate earlier of a personal computer holding around 500 GB, that would mean 1 exabyte would equal 2 million personal computers, and Google's 15 exabytes would be around 30 million personal computers!

To determine what 15 exabytes would look like in terms of punch cards though, we’ll need to do a bit more calculations. Punch cards were used mainly in the mid-20th century to store data used for data processing applications. A single punch card can hold about 80 characters, and a box of cards holds 2000 cards.

According to the what if? article, that equates to enough boxes of punch cards to fill up the entire region of New England to a depth of just under 3 miles. Let that process for a second. Just for scale, take a look at this graphic with the depth of punch cards imposed over the level of ice covering Boston in the most recent ice age. Staggering.

So if someone stops you in the street and asks about Google’s storage capacity, hopefully now you’ll have an answer. You can either tell them it’s somewhere in between 10-15 exabytes, or you can tell them to look up and imagine punch cards for 3 miles.