The storage and archiving of digital big data by the current approach based on datacenters will not be sustainable beyond 2040. There is therefore an urgent need to focus sustained R&D efforts on the advent of alternative approaches, none of which are currently mature enough.
The Global DataSphere (GDS) was estimated in 2018 to be 33 thousand billion billion (33x1021) of characters (bytes), which is of the same order as the estimated number of grains of sand on earth. This data comes not only from research and industry, but also from our per- sonal and professional connections, books, videos and photos, medical information. It will be further increased in the near-future by autonomous cars, sensors, remote monitoring, virtual reality, remote diagnosis and surgery. The GDS is increasing by a factor of about a thousand every twenty years.
Most of this data is then stored in several million datacenters (including corporate and cloud datacenters), which operate within transmission networks. These centers and networks already consume about 2 % of the electricity in the developed world. Their construction and operating costs are globally in the order of one trillion euros. They cover one millionth of the world’s land surface and, at the current rate, would cover one thousandth of it by 2040.