The Massive Flood of Data

Publish Date

02 OCT 2020


Kai Beckmann


Scarcity of raw materials is one of the central global challenges of our time. However, the precise opposite is true when it comes to data, the much-discussed “raw material of tomorrow”. Here, we are observing a real data explosion as part of the digital transformation.

One important prerequisite for mastering the growing flood of data even as we move towards the future are our specialty chemicals from the Electronics business sector of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

Data with every click, tweet and swipe

In our modern, digitalized world, data is generated, processed and saved at all times of the night and day, whether it be on local data storage media, in the cloud or using edge computing. This starts in private: Digital devices and the Internet have become such an indispensable part of our everyday lives that we are probably no longer conscious of how much data we produce on a daily basis. Starting with the sending of an e-mail and joining a video chat with friends to streaming via Netflix or Spotify.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given digitalization and thus data growth another considerable boost, especially when it comes to widespread working from home. According to a survey by Bitkom Research (German only), three out of four companies in Germany have increased their investments in digital devices, technologies and applications because of their experiences during the Covid-19 crisis.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the industry was also using the raw material, that is data, on a large scale to make production more efficient. More and more factories are being upgraded to smart factories, in which digitally connected machines and robots continuously collect data via countless sensors. As a result, production processes can be monitored, controlled and constantly optimized centrally.

And in public too, nothing would work without data these days. One important example of this is crucial infrastructures, such as energy supply, traffic and transport, telecommunications, and emergency services. Even highway billboards work digitally these days. In the event of a traffic jam, they are provided with data about the current length of the traffic jam. Digital technologies are also a crucial factor for the transition to a new energy policy because the strongly fluctuating production of renewable energies requires intelligent regional distribution of power based on real-time data.

Around five billion people – or a good 65% of the world population – currently interact with digital information every day. This proportion could increase to 75% by 2025.

The increased networking of people and devices inevitably leads to more data. According to the study by IDC and Seagate, the total quantity of data processed globally already amounted to 33 zettabytes in 2018. At first glance, this does not sound like a particularly large figure. However, when you break 1 zettabyte down into more familiar units of measurement, the true extent of this figure becomes clear. 1 zettabyte corresponds to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Before you try to count yourself, that is 1 followed by 21 zeros. Or, to express it more tangibly, you would need 660 billion Blu-ray disks, each with 50 gigabytes, to store 33 zettabytes. If you were to stack this number of Blu-ray disks on top of each other, you could build two towers that reach all the way to the moon.

And the end of the road is not in sight by a long shot. Researchers assume that the amount of data processed globally will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. With the unit of measurement known as the yottabyte, which corresponds to 1,000 zettabytes, the next candidate for measuring quantities of data is ready to launch. The processing of these constantly increasing amounts of data presents a more and more ambitious technological task and requires rapid progress in computer technology – and this is where Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany also comes into play.

No progress without chemistry

The semiconductor materials produced by the Electronics business sector at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany form an important basis for the development of increasingly powerful microchips. The manufacturing process of semiconductor devices is highly complex and comprises numerous steps, each of which requires specialty chemicals. Our innovative portfolio allows us to cover each of these steps. As a result, we are among the leading providers of specialty chemicals for the electronics industry.

Future generations will probably have to come up with a few more names for new units for measuring quantities of data. After all, there will come a time when zettabytes and yottabytes are no longer practical for expressing the immense quantities of digital information with a few digits. In any case, at Electronics, we are in an excellent position to meet the continuously increasing demand for more and more powerful microelectronics as part of the digitalization process. Our ambition is to enable the digital living of tomorrow with our solutions.

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