Alessio has an experience as a Google Product Expert and as a bug hunter, having reported security vulnerabilities to Google and Apple.
Using services like Google, Facebook or YouTube is a daily routine. It is such a common practice that most people don't even stop a minute to think about the great technology they have at their fingertips.
It's not just about the power of being able to access a virtually infinite amount of information, thanks to the Internet. It's the realization of what's behind that white page with a search box that millions of people in the world use everyday to start their journey on the web.
It's also thinking about the fact services like Google are literally categorizing an entire heritage of information from the human race.
Google Keeps an Entire Heritage of Humanity Inside its Servers
A single company headquartered in California is able to archive an indescribable amount of data, including but not limited to:
- Cache copies of web pages indexed in the search engine (Google is literally archiving a static copy of each page of the vast majority of the websites people can access).
- An entire heritage of literature is available on Google Books (Google is maybe the largest library in the world).
- Spherical photos from almost the entire planet, hosted on Google Street View (not many people are aware that Google even archives the same spherical photos taken from different periods so that it is literally freezing and preserving the world multiple times)
- Data about most of the commercial places, natural areas, public attractions, and all about the public life in most parts of the world (Google is maybe the largest phonebook of commercial activities and travel guide in the world).
This list may be already enormous to someone who stops a little and thinks about the fact Google is keeping everything related to the whole human species, past and present, in digital form within their servers. But it may look even more astonishing if one also considers the other data Google hosts on its servers:
- The entire YouTube platform, which is the leading video sharing service in most parts of the world (this makes Google hosting not only a virtually countless number of personal videos posted by users but also the incredible amount of music and movies produced)
- An incalculable number of documents, personal photos, phone contacts, emails and other stuff belonging to the millions of users owning a Google Account and hosting everything about their life on Google servers.
- The Google Cloud platform, which provides hosting also to other services that want to set the base of their digital services on the same data centers powering Google services (such as Spotify, which is hosted on the Google Cloud, meaning Google is storing our vast musical heritage as well).
If the future played out like a science fiction movie, one can imagine someday that aliens traveling to Earth long after human extinction could access this vast trove of information and reconstruct our lives and memories. Google's servers alone would be all they need!
What Is the Price To Pay for Storing Such a Huge Amount of Data?
Once you stop a minute to think about this, the next logical question one may ask is: what is the price to pay for preserving humanity's entire 'dataome' of lived knowledge and experience? Is it possible that Google will someday run out of storage space? What are the consequences of Google filling its servers to the brim?
How Google and Other Large Companies Store User Data
The description will be free of technical terms and delivered in the most simplistic way possible for people curious about how Big Tech stores all this data. Try to imagine a hard disk, like the one featured in every personal computer, with a capacity of several terabytes. Then, try to imagine several hard disks grouped into a single machine. Finally, try to imagine several machines grouped together in a closet; then, several of these closets, which are located in an enormous data center building. And there are also several of these data centers in every part of the world.
The combination of all these machines and data centers is what makes it possible for services like Google, Facebook, and YouTube to handle petabytes of data with no worries (and the ability to make redundant copies of this data). Also consider the fact these companies have engineers who constantly monitor the machines, upgrade them and replace broken parts.
So Will Google, YouTube or Facebook Ever Run Out of Storage?
Technically, it is possible that Google, YouTube, Facebook, or other companies will run out of storage space sometime in the future. It is also feasible, though very unlikely, that all the hard disks and servers could all be corrupted or broken at once, eliminating our stored info from existence.
This doesn't happen thanks to the work of engineers who constantly maintain the data centers and ensure everything works perfectly. Having all the machines working and all the hard drives healthy means that not only data is kept in several redundant copies, but also that there is enough free space for new data to be added again.
Right now, we could not preserve this data indefinitely without human engineers. In the future, however, it's conceivable that automated bots and artificial intelligence could inherit the job and keep our digital museum of experience and knowledge running for billions of years after we're gone.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Alessio Ganci