I 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.

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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.

About 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.



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

MUBEEN HAIDER December 7, 2015 at 2:14 am


sam February 18, 2019 at 6:48 pm

I have 2,157 movies in 1080p (some are in 4k but not many) and 220 TV shows ranging from 720p-1080p.Currently using less than 18TB of space across a server, NAS, and external. My “permanent” solution will be 5x12TB HDD’s in RAID 5 for storage and 5x12TB HDD’s in raid 5 on a synology for backups.

Matt February 18, 2019 at 9:12 pm

It starts to become an issue of how much do you really need “online” at any given time. Of those 2,157 movies, how many of them did you watch in the last year?

How many of them can be found online at any given time on an online streaming website?

Can you just store most of them on a handful of external hard drives and have an online catalog of each drive and plug them in as needed?

In the old days (15 years ago). Tv series dvds didn’t exist, movies tended to be $10 and up, and many things just hard to find.

Now things are cheap, readily accessible.

And photos. People used to take 1 or 2 good photos at an event like a picnic. Now they take 20 – 50. But instead of deciding which ones to keep, they keep them all. Photos have become the boring home videos of the 80s-90s. How many events will someone care about years in the future. I have maybe 1,000 photos from when i was born to age 18. Someone who turns 18 in 2030 will probably have over 100,000. Even at 5 seconds a picture, it will take someone 8hrs a day, 17 days just to look at all of them. The value of the pics will drop and become something that is always hauled around, but rarely looked at.

David Bernazani February 19, 2019 at 3:10 am

Matt- so true. Each time I take a photo with my iPhone, I don’t take just one, I take 3 or 4. But, unlike some who may just keep them all, I am constantly deleting most of them except the best ones. I have maybe 200 or so documenting the last 2 years of my life, and still haven’t bothered to upload them somewhere, because I have iCloud backup. I don’t pay anything for extra “cloud” storage, because I don’t need it.And unfortunately, storage technology is getting beyond my understanding. I have no idea what “RAID 5” is, and some of the other stuff Sam wrote about.As for streaming: I’m starting to stream some shows and movies, but right now I only subscribe to streaming Netflix and CuriosityStream. I know there are others, but who has time to watch them all, or the increasing money it takes to pay monthly subscriptions for ea h one? Oh, and I also still get some Netflix dvd’s by mail, because for some mysterious reason, many of the latest movies are not available to stream on their site. In fact, I’ve done searches of an assortment of movies, both new and old, that I’d like to see (from Casablanca to Back to the Future to Gladiator) and couldn’t find a single one! I had always thought sites like Netflix had gargantuan libraries of most any movie you could think of to watch, but it’s actually quite limited. Anyway it makes me glad that I have my own little video library of all my faves.

PS Did anyone notice that the title to this thread, “A Terabyte of Storage Space” is already sounding kinda quaint? Sorry, Kelly! Bit look how fast things change in this field!

marlon ferguson December 14, 2015 at 9:20 am

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 giguse apple idrive 200 gighave onedrive for business 1000 gig

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

eddie contreras, mpa, ms in IT Quinnipiac U. February 28, 2018 at 6:50 am

Two things. First it stands to reason Microsoft’s model gives us the impression that things are free or cheap – this branding strategy is important, because IT students and techies like to scavenge for deals to by tools – when these tools are branded bundles then they are perceived as good buys – Microsoft seems to make us think of it as a one stop shop for everything which is arguably a good marketing idea – my second impression Professor is that people commoditize things as such they seem more valuable with more stuff –do you agree?

Rhea Adams December 24, 2015 at 3:19 am

how many average sized books can be stored in a megabyte, assuming that the files are not compressed?

☺Nick☺ April 8, 2016 at 7:37 pm

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.

PaulG23 April 10, 2016 at 10:48 am

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.

isaac holiday July 21, 2016 at 11:06 am

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

Kelly Brvery own Post authorAugust 19, 2016 at 1:20 pm

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.

David Bernazani October 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm

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 BernazaniLafayette CA

Kelly Brown Post authorOctober 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm

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.

David Bernazani February 15, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Kelly, just as a follow-up, last year we got priced out of our lovely apartment and decided to move early to Romania, so last summer we packed up all those DVD’s (along with lots of other stuff!) and shipped it all there. Looks like I don’t need to worry about storing my collection, but who knows? Some day I may want to, just as a backup.Meanwhile, a terabyte seems to be growing smaller all the time…I’m also sure that the next format for movies will be like that of CDs: not a physical item at all, but digital versions stored on an “iVid”— some new version of the iPod. It still may sound strange to some, but it’s only a simple matter of storage.

Kelly Brown Post authorFebruary 16, 2018 at 10:13 am

David, thanks for the follow-up. I think you are right about the future of movies. Who says that you won’t have a 1Tb or 2Tb SSD on an “iVid”. They could even be removable so you keep a small collection of drives on your shelf. The other option is cloud storage but you need to have access to the cloud in order to utilize it. If I am backpacking in the wilderness area, I most likely will not have a signal to be able to access my movies. If I get lost however, accessing my cloud storage to watch movies will be the least of my worries :-).

David Bernazani October 5, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Kelly,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?

Kal October 13, 2016 at 5:05 pm

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.-Kal

Kelly Brvery own Post authorOctober 14, 2016 at 10:06 am

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.


Bill December 2, 2016 at 10:00 pm

If a petabyte = 1000TB, I would bet 2020.

Do you remember MS-DOS decided on 256KB for “base memory” because it was such a high number that consumer PC’s would never need more than that? (of course you do…that was a rhetorical question :D) I think that assumption was outdated about a week after it was implemented…

I do not think it has been all progress though: MS WORD for DOS did just as good a job as my current WP for my purposes, and it did it faster and more efficiently, and it fit on a floppy. However, I run a music server full of hi-rez music on an XP machine, and it sounds as good as vinyl (for files that were digitised from vinyl) and the PC was free ( a friend was throwing it out) and the DAC runs rings around the best redbook CD players and it costed about as much as a middle of the road consumer CD player. I already mentioned my HD… I was just reading about DACs that perform nearly as good as mine, but are the size of a cigarette lighter!

So, there have been advances. But also setbacks. Not a day goes by that I do not curse my Windows machine (usually 30 seconds be fore it crashes), I devote about a thousand times more memory than my first computer had all up just to control viruses, and whilst formats like mp3 allow people to carry around thousands of “songs” it makes ones ears hurt listening to them…

That said, with a retired xp machine, A$100 portable HD, and a A$1000 DAC one can have a digital front end for a HiFi setup that rivals a $10,000 turntable!

Kelly Brvery own Post authorDecember 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm


Thanks for the great comments. Yes, a petabyte is 1000 terabytes or 1 quadrillion bytes. So, the question remains, how did we get from 256,000 bytes to a trillion bytes and a future quadrillion bytes. I think a lot of it has to do with the physics and the fact that we can continue to pack more information into the same space and we are moving from mechanical disk drives to solid state drives. I know we will hit physical limitations in the future and will have to think smarter about how large of programs we make. We may have become sloppy about how much memory and storage we use for common programs as your illustration of Word points out. Granted we do have nice graphical interfaces now that we did not have in MS-DOS versions but I fear that we have let these programs balloon “because we can”. The physicists and electrical engineers designing and creating integrated circuits have done us a favor by continuing to push the physical limits but they have also made us lazy.

I am envious of your music server. It sounds like a great setup that serves you very well.

David Bernazani October 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm

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…..

See more: What Does Prune Juice Taste Like, How Do You Hide The Taste Of Prune Juice

Bill December 2, 2016 at 10:33 pm

Like you I think we will see acceleration in storage size increases. (See my prediction above) So many people want to be able to carry every video ever made around in their smart phones! The only thing that will slow it down will be if people decide that cloud storage is a good idea. (I do not…) I guess there will be another limitation caused by the size of an electron, but although I really have no idea, I imagine we are not close to that yet! I think by the time that we get 1 PB consumer storage, though, it will be flash. The technology is diminishing in cost exponentially (I remember lashing out and buying, I think a 640MB, thumb drive for $130 in Singapore, where were cheap. This was a lot of money (I could have bought a cheap laptop in Singapore for 3X that), but it was a HUGE amount of storage (I still use it as an archive for old WP files) but it was a bargain at the time. Now I hesitate to pay A$30 for a 32GB thumb drive, because I think next week I might get a 64GB for that!) And really I hope in a year or two moving parts for storage will be ancient history! I would think, perhaps naively, well-built solid state would have to be more reliable than motors and bearings?

David Bernazani December 3, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Bill,Yes, I also want to see the end of moving parts for storage devices. This is why I’m waiting to get a new laptop/tablet until the 500gb SSD prices come down a bit more.But your idea that people want “every video ever made” in their phones made me think:It’s not as crazy as it first sounds.First of all, no one wants EVERY movie or video; everyone has certain tastes and “filters”, choosing just the ones the really like. (And think of how many BAD movies there are out there!) That’s why I have 800 DVDs at home and not thousands, which I could easily have these days, now that you can find literally thousands of them for sale online for as little as 75 cents. I’m selective (picky) about which ones I want to own.

And I already DO have about a thousand songs on my 64g iphone– again, only ones I like. Today there are phones that could hold, what, ten thousand? Twenty? More? If not that many yet, there soon will be. And 20,000 songs is probably the max almost anyone could possibly want on a phone.Now apply the analogy to video. It’s all just a question of storage, and if phone storage keeps doubling like it has been, in a few more years, your “crazy” idea of putting a thousand movies on your phone sounds downright inevitable!And as I don’t know many people who would have the time to watch more than a thousand movies on their phones, I don’t think many would want much more than that. Which means your “crazy” dream of “every video ever made” on a phone would, in a sense, become reality. And not too far in the future at all, my friend.See you there!

Bill December 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Hi David

Yea, I probably already have more music than I can ever listen to in my music server–3TB, probably 300K songs (mostly Hi-rez–I prefer quality over quantity!)

It is funny though, I have music albums (vinyl–lol) that I may have listened to hundreds of times but I could probably list in a few minutes the number of movies I have watched twice, and I think there are maybe a half dozen I have watched more than twice. Even though storage is cheap, it would seem a waste for me to have too many movies. Most of the movies I have watched twice are because I have wanted to share with my daughter (who like me has eclectic tastes) cult classics I love. It is pretty easy for me to find movies like those in the library…

My question–and it is just curiosity–do you really watch hundreds of movies over and over again, or do you have a professional interest that makes it useful to have all those videos? I have a friend who wrote a book on philosophy and film: he owns more movies than I have ever watched!