In just three years, the bytes of data generated by digital cameras, mobile phones, businesses IT systems, and devices will equal the number of grains of sand on the world's beaches.
It's a mind-boggling estimation from market analysis company IDC. But it reflects the proliferation of devices and systems used by consumers and businesses, said Stephen Minton, IDC's vice president of worldwide IT markets and strategies, during a briefing on Thursday.
Over the next few years, corporations will face tough decisions on how to store data, find information and comply with regulations, said Minton, who laid out a forecast of what IT managers can expect from what's being labeled the "information explosion."
It won't be an easy task. While 85 percent of that data is predicted to come from consumers snapping photos, surfing Web pages, and sending e-mail, about 60 percent of that consumer data will still cross corporate networks, Minton said.
Much of the data is unstructured, meaning it's not clearly labeled as to its content, such as photos, video, and perhaps phone recordings, which makes it more difficult to use.
But technologies that enable deep analysis of the data are emerging, and could help business unlock what's important and improve their operations.
The mass of data companies are collecting -- the retailer Wal-Mart Stores, for example, generates 1TB of transactional data a day -- represents huge business opportunities "if companies can really get to a point where they can successfully analyze the data going back and forth on their network," Minton said.