A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

Over stuffed suburban garageI read an article a couple of weeks ago about Microsoft raising the Office 365 storage limit to one terabyte. Office 365 is a solution where the end user pays a monthly fee for the MS Office suite along with hosted storage on OneDrive. I really wonder how much storage is enough? Can I really generate and save enough Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files to fill one terabyte? I decided to dig into it further to see just what will fill 1,000 gigabytes.

Office Documents

It is estimated that 85,899,345 pages of Word documents would fill one terabyte. Now, if you can truly generate that much content, you have a serious archiving task on your hands. I am currently reading the book “John Adams” by David McCullough; it is approximately 650 pages long which means I could archive about 132,152 books of similar size. It has taken me nearly two months to read this book so it would take 66,076 months or 5,506 years to read my entire library. I cannot read that fast, nor do I have that much life left in me.

Music Files

Assuming that an average song takes up five megabytes, one terabyte could fit approximately 200,000 songs or 17,000 hours of music. How many songs do you have on your iTunes right now?


You could fit approximately 500 hours worth of movies on one terabyte. Assuming each movie is roughly 120 minutes long, that would be about 250 movies. I do know people who have that many movies in their library, so it is possible that they could build a database of movies to fill that space.


You could fit approximately 310,000 photos in one terabyte. You could fit even more if you used a compression algorithm. How would you even catalog that many photos? By time, by subject, by category? Suddenly, we are facing big data issues in our personal lives, and we are going to need similar tools to be able to make sense of all of our potential data stores. With digital photography, it is possible to take a lot of photos without ever having to worry about development costs, so maybe 300,000 pictures is not out of the question.


With advances in technology, we have a lot of potential storage space available to us. Microsoft struck the opening salvo, but I expect Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and others to follow suit. One terabyte hard drives are not uncommon right now and even though we have the potential filespace, can we fill it responsibly? If we can fill it, do we have the skills and tools necessary to keep track of our digital belongings? Perhaps there is a new IT job category—personal archivist—created for those individuals drowning in their digital “stuff.” My point is that we need to take a step back and assess the data that we are keeping and ask ourselves: “Just because I can keep it all, do I need to? Do I have the skills and tools necessary to ever find what I am looking for?”

If we don’t need it and we can’t manage it, maybe it is time to clean out the digital garage. Do you need to clean out your digital garage? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

18 thoughts on “A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

  1. marlon ferguson

    I have a considerable collection of photos (20k) or so and 13000 and growing in music library , my problem is that i have 300 dvds or so that i purchased most of which I wish to save, I spent alot of time and money over protecting these (300 disc dvd changer pioneer) and would like to preserve, I keep researching media servers for my self, but if i was going to travel cant really take with me, and if i was to convert them all digital and throw dvds away, would like to have a multiple bay type storage and a cloud option…..any thoughts on my conglomerated media issue…..
    use google drive 15 gig
    use apple idrive 200 gig
    have onedrive for business 1000 gig

    none of which work for my complete issue ????

    1. Kelly Brown Post author

      Hello Marlon,
      Thanks for reading our blog. In a blog coming up next week I do a short review of a product by Western Digital called Personal Cloud or a sister product called Personal Cloud Mirror which has two mirrored drives at level 1 RAID. They are meant to be a personal cloud so that you can access your data, photos, music or movies anywhere. The mirroring is important to save your data in the event of a disaster or drive failure. Check it out at: http://www.wdc.com/en/products/personalcloud/ and let me know what you think.

    1. Kelly Brown Post author

      Good question! The simple but frustrating answer is: it depends. In my blog example, approximately 86 pages of Word document constitutes one megabyte. That would be a short book but there is extra formatting in Word that takes up even more bytes beyond just the plain characters. In plain ASCII, a character is equivalent to a byte. If you have 50 lines of 50 characters each per page then each page would represent 2500 bytes which means that a 400 page novel would equal 1 megabyte. In a published book there will be some formatting involved because of fonts and other characters so you would be lucky to get a 200 to 300 page book in a megabyte. So, the answer to your question is one.

  2. ☺Nick☺

    I run 5TB and it’s full. Unless you watch 480p, 1080p and the upcoming 4k videos will eat a TB away.

    Time will pass, and you’ll find this thread a joke. I’m hoping to double my space in the near future.

  3. PaulG23

    You wrote that a terabyte = approximately 85,899,345 pages of Word docs.

    Okay, no human can read that much, but what if you were responsible for reviewing and determining what is important in 1 terabyte of data storage, where some is video, some is documents, some is audio recordings? And by important, I mean that someone’s life or liberty was at stake.

    Such is the dilemma facing criminal defense attorneys these days in some federal cases. The government dumps that much discovery, and more, on the defendant and his counsel. Then the prosecutors produce at trial just that carefully selected evidence which they think will help them convince a jury to convict the defendant. Judges typically don’t require the government to specifically disclose their exhibits, or expected trial testimony, or even prior statements from government trial witnesses, prior to trial. So, the defendant and defense counsel cannot anticipate and prepare for what is actually produced.

    The defendant and his/her counsel who have the temerity to go to trial cannot have reviewed all of the evidence, and are, therefore, taken advantage of, and surprised, at trial.

    Result: most defendants (95 – 97%) of all federal criminal defendants plead guilty before trial. Those who do go to trial lose 90 – 95% of the time. Those who lose at trial and then appeal, lose in more than 90% of the appeals. Overall result – in federal criminal cases, the defendant has approximately 0% chance of getting acquitted.

    Data overload is just one of the prosecution techniques deliberately used by prosecutors to destroy any chance of a fair trial.

    There oughta be a law – for example: cases where the prosecutor produces more than the equivalent of 100,000 pages of discovery materials, should be dismissed for violating the due process right of the defendant to get a fair trial.

    That would give federal defendants a little more of a fighting chance.

    1. David Bernazani

      Paul: Wow, I never knew about that. It doesn’t apply to my life or career (thank goodness!) but I will certainly remember it!
      Thanks for sharing.

  4. isaac holiday

    I have 600 CD’s and I am looking to store them on a flash drive. What size flash drive I might to need to store perhaps @ 100,000 songs only?

    1. Kelly Brown Post author

      A rough estimate of 100,000 songs at ~5 megabytes per song would equally 500 gigabytes or half a terabyte. Another way to consider this is that a CD holds approximately 700 megabytes so with 600 full CD’s you would have 420 gigabytes or almost half a terabyte. In either calculation, you would need storage equaling about 500 gigabytes.

  5. David Bernazani

    I have about 800 DVD & Blu-ray movies now, and by the time I retire and move to Romania in a few years I expect to have roughly 1,000. This is a lot of boxes. I am researching the possibility of transferring them all to flash drives, or some other kind of memory device.
    I would need at least 4 Tb of memory to hold them, so just one Tb doesn’t seem like a lot to me.
    But I’m worried about long-term storage, data degradation, and accessing them in a convenient way. So clearly I have more research to do!
    Thanks for your info.
    -Dave Bernazani
    Lafayette CA

    1. Kelly Brown Post author

      Dave, thanks for your comments. I have been in the business long enough that I remember working with bytes and kilobytes so my perspective has partly to do with my history. It could be that the terabyte is the new megabyte and I just need to catch up :-). Good luck getting everything moved over to storage. I see that they make a 1Tb flash drive now so 1000 DVD’s down to 4-5 flash drive is quite a space savings.

  6. David Bernazani

    Yeah, I remember floppy discs, and even life before VHS tapes. My first computer didn’t even have memory; every program (read: game) I wanted to run, I had to insert a floppy to run it.
    Heck, I remember my first computer class in high school, we saved programs on a paper punch-tape ! The computer wasn’t even actually at school; we were hooked up to a university via some kind of early pre-internet connection, and used teletype machines to communicate with it!
    Memory was at a premium. I’m astounded today at how much it’s increased. A terabyte in a flash drive is like something out of Star Trek! And my iPhone probably has more power than the entire Houston control room for the Apollo moon missions.
    Cool times, huh?

  7. Kal

    I think this is an interesting article. It looks like I may be among the youngest on this thread. You said “maybe the terabyte is the new megabyte” and that you haven’t caught up or something to that effect. I think that’s the nail on the head. You are thinking of data storage in an antiquated way. You’re thinking of cds and floppy discs and how much a typical song, movie, or document takes up without recognizing as that a movie, audio file, or document is not a fixed measure. Someone else mentioned 4K video, well with advances like blue ray, 4K, mp4, upcoming wearable technology, etc we will need more data storage for the same amount of content. Example: 100 songs in mp3 format will be different then the amount of storage for 100 songs in mp4 format.

    Hope that all makes sense I just stumbled across this thread and thought I’d put in my thoughts.

    1. Kelly Brown Post author

      Hello Kal,

      Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct and I probably need to update this blog post. I was talking with someone the other day about Blu-ray, 4K and mp4. They all require a lot more storage space. I see 1 Tb flash thumb drives now as well as 2, 3, and 4 Tb backup drives from reliable suppliers such as Seagate. The price is coming down as well. I wonder however whether storage makers are are working to keep up with the new content formats or are content providers developing new formats to take advantage of advances in storage technology. The real question however is when will we see the first consumer 1 petabyte drive? Do you care to make any predictions? :-). Thanks for your note.


  8. David Bernazani

    Kelly, do you mean flash drive or hard drive? I believe the highest-memory hard drive (as of 2015) is/was 16 terabytes. It appears that Moore’s law is reaching its theoretical limits (computer memory doubling every 18 months), but it should hold for at least a few more years, which means that 16 Tb hard drive should reach a petabyte in roughly 9 years. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a 1petabyte hard drive much sooner. As for a flash drive, I imagine it may take a little longer, as flash drives always seem to lag behind hard drives in memory space.
    And by then I think we will be approaching the limits of memory storage– what do you think? I think a petabyte was what Arthur C. Clarke figured would hold the entire lifetime’s worth of memories, emotions and all other data from a human brain (as written about in 3001: The Final Odyssey). Or maybe it was 5 Pb? Must check on this…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *