Can We Run Out of Internet?


As little as ten years ago, you couldn’t discover news things like you can today. Whether you consider this to be a curse or a blessing, the content available on the Internet has changed dramatically over the last few years.

Back in the Mad Men era of content, in the 1950s and 60s, content was built for marketing in a poster and paper type fashion, with a heavy focus on radio. Now, everything is becoming digital. So, whether you like it or not, you need a really good website to survive out there.

According to We Are Social’s figures, Internet users have grown by 82 percent (that is around 1.7 billion people) since the beginning of January 2012. Another 1.3 billion people (and their pets) have started using social media in the past five years; that’s around eight new users every second. When you picture how many more people that means are consuming content, it proves how there needs to be new, fresh and exciting content out there, day in and day out, to capture their attention.

So, with this in mind, have you thought lately just how big the void is that the Internet fills? Ink supplier Toner Giant has run some numbers and it turns out that, if you were to print the entire Internet, you could get to the moon and back 107 times on a bridge of paper. Considering the growth of the Internet in such a short space of time, you really have to wonder whether it’s sustainable to carry on expanding at such a fast rate.

It’s easier to understand this growth if we look at the Internet not as users, but as data. Every second, around 6,000 tweets go into the Twitter feed, 40,000 searches are sent through Google and over 2 million emails are sent. Researchers spent seven years looking into how much ‘stuff’ there was on the Internet, and they came to the conclusion that there were around 4.66 billion Web pages online in March 2016, not including the Dark Web.

Now, this is where it starts to get confusing. Live Science reports that “In 2014, researchers published a study in the journal Supercomputing Frontiers and Innovations estimating the storage capacity of the Internet at 10^24 bytes, or 1 million Exabytes.”

A byte surmounts to a data unit made up of eight different bits and is equal to one character; say, for instance, the letter A. An Exabyte is 1 billion bytes and there are a million Exabaytes, probably much more than currently on the Internet. That’s an awful lot of storage taking up space on what we just see as ‘the Internet.’

To think that the Internet is stored, in essence, on servers in big warehouses, makes us ask the question: could we run out of land space before we run out of space on the Internet? There are currently 252 data centers in the U.K., but Cisco projects that that number is going to triple in the next five years to accommodate growing numbers of Internet users. It’s also worth noting that these data centers don’t run themselves; they need energy and, although most are looking to green energy, this takes time, which, at the minute, we don’t have.

If we look at Google’s data centers alone, there are eight listed in the U.S., one in South America, four in Europe and two in Asia, but the cloud sites aren’t easy to measure and they are worldwide. Each of these data centers are well over 100,000 square feet, with one in Oklahoma measuring an enormous 980,000sqft. Google does not disclose the finer details of its data centers, but estimates can be reached through announcements on expansions.

Due to the sheer size of Google’s data centers, it has led to it buying more renewable energy that any other corporation in the world. Data Center Knowledge reported “Google has signed 20 purchase agreements for 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy. This means that, while renewable energy may not be available everywhere or in the quantities Google needs, Google purchases the same amount of renewable energy as it consumes.”

Google knows that renewable energy takes funding and time, so it is pumping money into that industry as well, with a reported $2.5 billion in equity funding to develop solar and wind energy across the globe. Whether renewable energy can respond to the funds it is being fed is yet to be seen. Perhaps Toner Giant’s calculations are telling; if the Internet can already reach the moon and back 107 times, is it time it booked a one-way ticket so we can move data centers to the moon?  

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