A study released by Gartner, Inc. yesterday shows definitively that by 2016 the IT infrastructure of the entire world will be jammed so full of duckfaces, LOL(ish) cats, Like!-able kids and giant libraries filled withmultiple copies of the same mislabeled music files that the flow of actual information will slow to a stop.
Worse, so much of that data will be stored in the public cloud that it will become common for huge chunks of data-cloud to break off the main body of the cloud like gargantuan icebergs splitting from the Arctic glacial sheets and floating away to melt.
Except, chunks of cloud won't float away. They'll crash to Earth, setting off user-complaint shrieks the likes of which you have never heard, spraying entire metro areas with party-pick shrapnel crushing unimaginable numbers of smartphone users too intent on finding a good signal so they can upload their latest pics to see their ironically appropriate doom plunging toward them.
It really is a pretty dramatic story, if you read between the lines a bit.
If you only read the lines that are actually present, prospects for the future are much worse:
In 2011 consumers worldwide could claim only 329 exabytes of data. By 2016 that number will have grown to 4.1 zettabytes (3,728,924,999.68 terabytes, of which 1,342,407,966.72 terabytes will be stored in the cloud).
Why is it a disaster that consumers are willing to use the cloud?
The apocalypse that will destroy us all will have nothing to do with having our sweetbreads gnawed by zombies, being ray-gunned by aliens or following dinosaurs toward the giant museum-display-case in the sky after a giant meteor strike.
No, humanity won't meet its fate with a bang, or even a CRASH, zzzaappp or nom, as the case might have been.
We will smother under choking piles of poor photography and mountainous examples of poor data management.
"As we enter the post-PC era, consumers are using multiple connected devices, the majority of which are equipped with cameras. This is leading to a massive increase in new user-generated content that requires storage," according to Shalini Verma, principal research analyst at Gartner, who was chosen to break the bad news to the rest of us about the bad-data apocalypse, but apparently spoke his lines without screaming or panic as the rest of us would have.
"With the emergence of the personal cloud, this fast-growing consumer digital content will quickly get disaggregated from connected devices," Verma said.
In this case "disaggregated" means people with cameras on every little digital thing will take pictures, record audio and send everything they've ever stored into the cloud, then forget where it is, how (or whether) to delete it and why they shouldn't put up another copy of the same set of files to an account they created because they forgot the username on the first one.
Astounding numbers (with silly names): Disastrous results from consumer empowerment
In 2011 only seven percent of the data consumers hoard was stored in the cloud. By 2016, 36 percent of consumer data will be stored in the cloud, Gartner predicts.
That's an increase in percentages of 514 percent.
I admit, using the percent-change between two percentages is a pretty lame way to describe the shift in technical awareness, online resources and ubiquitous data-access that will allow ordinary people to store so much data in the cloud.
Unfortunately, the legitimate way to describe it – using the specific numbers Gartner used to project the result in five years of current trends in consumer-data storage – is far more ridiculous because of the unbelievable quantities of almost-entirely useless data involved.
(It's also ridiculous because once you get past exabyte, which sounds kind of silly, you're into measurements units like zettabytes, yottabytes, xonabytes and vundabytes, all of which are perfectly legitimate and sound exactly like words made up by toddlers who figure the bigger the word they use to ask for it, the more candy they'll eventually get.)
Right now consumers worldwide own, store or vaguely recognize a total of 329 exabytes of data stored on PCs, smartphones, tablets, hard disk drives, external storage devices and cloud-based storage services, according to Gartner's estimates.
How to waste money, storage and space in the clouds
That's not the same as a giant corporation holding 329 exabytes of data. Corporations pay for their storage, whether it's in the cloud or not.
They also actually care (sometimes) about the quality of the data in those files, how many of them are duplicates or obsolete or corrupt or have the potential to become evidence in really expensive lawsuits.
So corporations will occasionally delete a file, limit the number of lottabytes employees are allowed to store, or move big chunks of those files off hard drives, servers and clouds and onto nice, cheap DVD or tape storage.
Consumers just put files "up" in the cloud and leave them there on the assumption they'll eventually find a use for a video of someone's dog lip-syncing Who Let The Dogs Out, and will need to access it using whatever device they have on hand, brushing aside the objections of every single person within earshot who is asking not to be subjected to that particular video again because every single one of them have their own copies, also up in the cloud, also duped from old user accounts they can no longer find.
By 2016, Gartner predicts with hardly a quaver of fear (or disgust) in its voice, that only 64 percent of all consumer data will be in any kind of on-premise storage.
In 2011, 93 percent of all consumer data was stored in actual objects under the consumer's control, occupying the consumer's own personal space, and forcing consumers to buy, organize and keep track of all the devices and media on which they stored all their data. True, all that storing and organizing prompts many consumers to wish there was one place they could put it all where they could just search rather than have to look around the real world for the device, flash drive or DVD with the video they want.
That should have tipped the rest of us off to the danger, rather than having to wait for Gartner to point it out.
Of course, we didn't notice. We were too busy taking bad photos of our cats or stuffing our DropBox with pictures of the kids (now graduating high school) as toddlers sticking Cheerios to their faces to amuse us (before we got too busy posting pictures online that we kind of lost track of that particular kid).
Smothering the future in congealed grease
Wasting storage space isn't as big a sin as most, of course. You can always delete a file to make more room and re-use the same space on the disk.
You might. Most consumers won't, even if they can find the file or account.
Cloud providers can do it, with stricter storage limits or fewer free cloud-storage accounts. They can't teach consumers discipline and evangelize the whole cloud thing at the same time, though. Cloud providers want consumers to use their clouds, even use them badly if the money is good enough.
Storage providers would be cheering Gartner's prediction of disaster, if their throats were not already hoarse from cheering the last several waves of clouditization, virtualization, multi-devicilization and BYODity that have been driving sales nearly hard enough to make storage interesting.
No one is talking about the downside of all that data weighing down the global IT infrastructure and threatening what we hope will become our way of life.
Instead of flying cars and jetpacks (which would have finally become real if they weren't killed-by-bytes of consumer data), or screaming-fast quantum computers that let us play video games faster than ever, we'll be dealing with the digital version of arteriosclerosis.
Every cloud provider will be driven to distraction (or bankruptcy) by the constant need to upgrade; storage vendors will waste gas and pump more global-warming gasses into the atmosphere driving to the bank over and over and over, laughing hoarsely all the while.
Even enterprise IT budgets will be strained by employees who manage to disguise personal files as "real" data.
Unfortunately, no matter how bad the larding of consumer data onto the Internet becomes, the picture will not be as darkly satisfying as I suggested.
Chunks of gangrenous cloud will die and fall away from the main body, but they won't drop onto the heads of the consumers whose data hoarding caused the problem in the first place.
The epidemic of bad photography, "funny" videos and elaborately obvious PhotoShops labeled "totally legit" will do nothing to crush the perpetrators, in fact. It will crush only those who have to pay for all the storage, maintain all the hardware and networks crowded with dreck and those hoping a transaction or email or TV show will complete quickly so they can go on with the rest of their lives.
Hopes will be crushed. Time schedules will be crushed. Support staffs will be worn down to faint signs of past erosion.
So will the hopes of technologists, entrepreneurs and scientists who imagined humanity would advance if it were given the right tools, access to the right information – art, literature, law, news, education. Instead, Humanity will clog what could have been the neural pathways of a connected planet with LOLcats, blurry photos of co-workers and five-year-old copies of videos that are no longer funny even now.
It's a tragic picture that Gartner paints, though neither Verma nor the other Gartners quoted in various publications seemed to realize it.
They seemed to see the rampant growth as evidence consumers – non-technical civilians who will never know where the actual "cloud" is or whether it involves mist or not – are improving their lot, making their lives more convenient using the newest generation of information technology.
No one is under that particular chunk of falling cloud right now. By the time it hits the ground, though, a lot of us certainly will be.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.