February 07, 2004
Now *That's* a Lot of Data...
John Tredennick cites a report from the UC Berkeley School of Information Management and Systems, which makes some conclusions about how much data was created in 2002. Assuming this is accurate, we are collectively cranking out some serious data, most of which is not being stored in paper form.
The accompanying chart helps to illustrate exactly how huge this data pile is. Ever try to figure out how much a Terabyte, Petabyte, or even Exabyte means in a measure that's comprehensible to mere mortals? Here's one good example: 200 Petabytes represents all printed material. (A Petabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 1015 bytes.) While that is certainly mountainous, it doesn't hold a candle to the total volume of information generated in 1999, which is 2 Exabytes (an Exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 1018 bytes).
Considering that was over four years ago, and the estimation that 5 Exabytes represents "All words ever spoken by human beings," and one quickly realizes we are at a point where we are collectively cranking out one heck of a lot of data. To put the above into perspective, the entire print collection of the U.S. Library of Congress only amounts to a paltry 10 Terabytes (a Terabyte is 1,000,000,000,000 bytes or 1012 bytes).
Just a few orders of magnitude in difference, wouldn't one say? It certainly explains why electronic data discovery (EDD) has grown in leaps and bounds. In the most simplistic terms, I consider paper and electronic evidence to make up the two basic parts of the iceberg: Paper represents the tiny tip that is visible in comparison to the overwhelming mass that lies hidden under the surface. Let's extend this analogy a bit further: Attorneys still working predominantly with paper-based discovery remind me of the captain of the Titanic, under the belief that his ship was unsinkable because he would be able to see the icebergs in sufficient time to avoid them.
While there are certainly tech-savvy attorneys available who are ready and will rise to the challenge, in my humble opinion there are many more who are not. This may be difficult for some to accept, but there is still hope. In many cases, these latter attorneys are going to need someone to help them muddle through. This is where I see much opportunity for quality EDD consultants to fill this gap.
While many EDD "vendors" will readily collect the data, there is often far too much for "mere mortals" to wade through and still meet litigation and transaction deadlines. It's the worst kept secret among litigation support professionals as to how many times they've seen electronic evidence get blown back to paper, which diminishes much of their usefulness and portability. A true consultant will find savvy ways to separate the wheat from the chaff and present it in ways which work well with legal professionals and their clients (with the latter, the cost issues alone are huge barriers to overcome). In other words, finding the right huge pile of data is one thing, but digging in the right place with the right shovel is quite another.