The National Security Administration (NSA) has been in the headlines recently; something I’m sure every top-secret intelligence agency longs for. In the myriad articles, interviews, and stories about how much data the NSA “gathers” about e-mail contents, phone calls, mobile phone tracking, text messages, and what you feed your cat, you might recall mention of a new NSA facility under construction in Utah. In case you missed this tidbit, just Google “NSA Utah” for a return of a little over 57 million hits.

The big story, for me at least, is not that our government is building a new super-snooper facility in the middle of nowhere, (Apologies to Mormons and other residents of the state.) but the quantity of data the installation is projected to handle.

When I heard the term “zettabyte” in reference to the new agency outlet, just like you, I scrambled for my browser to find out just how many a zetta is. According to Wikipedia, a zettabyte is “The zettabyte is a multiple of the unit byte for digital information. The prefix zetta indicates the seventh power of 1000 and means 1021 in the International System of Units (SI), and therefore one zettabyte is one sextillion (one long scale trilliard) bytes.” (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettabyte. The Wikipedia entry is worth a read.) The new NSA post is estimated to support 5 zettabytes of storage capacity. For the less mathematically astute of us, myself included, in Texas that’s what we call a !@#\$load.

Let’s dial that zettabyte into perspective: If the earth is ~197 million square miles in surface area (it is), and each square mile is the equivalent of 1 zettabyte, I am in possession of empirical knowledge that my calculator does not produce enough zeroes to show me how many times a zetta of square miles would cover the earth. With excessive confidence, I can now say that a zettabyte should be enough for anyone.