Sunday, April 08, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is the Internet Facing Gridlock?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is the Internet Facing Gridlock?This is a very interesting article but I hold some serious reservations on the full concept. Even still it is a very worthwhile read.

Here is what I know on the subject or at least, here is what I think I know. The amount of new technical information is doubling on the planet every 2 years. Third generation fiber optics has recently been separately tested by NEC and Alcatel, and it is reported to push 10 trillion bits per second down one single strand of fiber. That is equal to 1,900 CDs or 150 million simultaneous phone calls every second per strand. They say that this technology is currently tripling about every 6 months and is expected to do so for at least the next 20 years. Lastly it is important to note that the fiber is already there in the ground in most metropolitan centers, they’re just improving the switches on the ends. Which means the marginal cost of these improvements is minimal.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Bill Gates (American Entrepreneur and Founder of Microsoft Co., b.1955)

Is the internet facing gridlock? By Iain S Bruce, Technology Editor s/display.var.1250955.0.is_the_internet_facing_gridloc k.php

Life without the internet is now unthinkable, but with services over-stretched, users may have to dig deep if they want to keep surfing

IT STUTTERED, then it stopped. Around the world screens were plunged into darkness, wiping hundreds of millions of pounds from the global economy as communications slowed to a crawl. The routes upon which millions of people depended to interact with their employers, governments, suppliers and friends suddenly slammed shut. Welcome to the great panic of 2007: the year the web fell over.

This doomsday scenario is uncomfortably close to becoming true. We may have become accustomed to thinking of the internet as an infinite resource, but according to the latest predictions from Deloitte there is a high risk that the vast volumes of digital information bouncing around the planet could exceed the web's available capacity before the year is out.

Pointing to the huge growth in net use over the past year, analysts fear that the unrelenting growth in traffic expected this year may overwhelm the internet's backbone - the fibre-optic cables that connect continents.

advertisement"Two key trends underpin the threat to the internet's capacity. First of these is that the total population of users breached the one billion mark last year and is expected to continue growing at a remarkable rate. The second, most important factor is the rise of video," said David Townsley, one of the authors of the Deloitte report.

"Over a third of all web traffic in 2007 is expected to be peer-to-peer video, with the number of download offerings, IPTV companies and chat services expected to continue spiralling upwards.

"Given that some service providers are already seeing video exceed the amount of voice traffic on their systems and the fact that this places much higher demand on available bandwidth, the threat to speed and quality of service is very clear."

Last August, the video-sharing site YouTube was pumping out 100,000 streams to avid users; by September it was serving a staggering 1.2 million. We love the web and with every passing day demand more from it, resulting in predictions that by 2012, the electronic traffic generated by just 20 Scottish homes will equal the volume of data that flowed through the entire internet in 1996. That is great news for dotcommers and digital entrepreneurs, but it has awoken genuine concern among many in the industry. Experts fear that before long, demand for such services could well exceed what the internet's physical infrastructure is capable of delivering.

"We are already in a situation where the pipes are close to being full up," said Antoine Guy, European head of web traffic specialist Allot Communications. "The growth of video has brought the problem sharply into focus and it is highly probable that this will result in a slow-down across many service providers in 2007. At the current rate, we will have exhausted the internet's global capacity within two years."

Whether you use the web for work or pleasure, this will not make pleasant reading. It might seem inconceivable that a medium so integral to our commercial and personal lives could hit the buffers, but throughout the telecommunications industry there is growing acceptance that the issue must be confronted now if we are to avoid disaster.

At Level 3, the company that provides the internet backbone for all the major service providers throughout Europe and North America, executives plough $500 million (£255.5m) worth of capital investment a year into expanding the global network's capacity and resilience.

As you would expect from an outfit charged with providing the bandwidth for companies such as BT, Yahoo, AT&T and MySpace, Level 3 professes to be confident of its ability to keep pace with rising demand, but this is a position tinged with caution.

"There has been a huge change in the way we use the internet. At first we simply accessed it to find information in what was essentially a one-way process, but now we make content ourselves, and the 16 to 24-year-olds spend 50% of their time online viewing material that has been created and shared by themselves or their friends," said Brady Rafuse, Level 3's European president.

"There has been a huge spike in demand, and sooner rather than later the industry will have to come to terms with the investment and workload that will be required to cope with it."

You would not expect Rafuse to suggest that the backbone his company maintains is in immediate danger of being overwhelmed, but the facts speak for themselves. At the Amsterdam Internet Exchange - which handles 20% of Europe's web traffic - the information flow grows at a rate of 7.4% a month and shows no sign of slowing down. Traffic is doubling year-on-year and in 2007 the total amount of data it will handle is expected to be 500 times greater than that stored in all of the libraries in the US.

While the backbone providers keep a wary eye on the galloping proliferation of internet use, at a national level Britain's biggest provider echoes the need to keep tabs on this explosive growth. Even as the plaudits for making the UK one of the world's most broadband-connected countries continue to ring around it, BT is keen to kick-start a debate on the need for an even faster, newer and bigger digital infrastructure.

"The growth of services such as peer-to-peer video sharing has been staggering, increasing at a rate no- one could have predicted," said Angus Flett, director of product management at BT Wholesale. "At present we have sufficient capacity, but this is a big issue that will only get more serious as time goes by. It's not simply a question of building bigger pipes, we have to prioritise needs and come up with a strategy that strikes the right balance between investment and service."

That investment is already under way. BT has begun a £1 billion 21st-century networks programme in Scotland which will bring access to wholesale broadband services with speeds of up to 24Mb/s to 50% of the UK and around 570,000 Scots from the beginning of 2008.

The strategy -which includes all 1070 exchanges in Scotland - will cover rural areas as well as towns and cities. It is scheduled to be completed by 2011 and is the first in the world to attempt to bring next generation network services to everyone, regardless of where they live.

All of which is great, but raises the question of how we will survive in the meantime. It is very unlikely that people will be prepared to wait another four years to sample the full potential delights of the internet age. Despite acknowledging the demands this will place on an already creaking internet, however, many in the industry say that advancing technology will enable the global network to continue at full operational speed.

"There is absolutely no way that the web will fall over. Companies like ours have spent too much money on it to allow that to happen," said Gordon Thomson, Cisco's Scottish director. "I have total confidence in technology's ability to keep improving the efficiency with which information is channelled through the internet. Some ISPs might experience a slow-down as the volume of subscribers overwhelms them, but overall experience shows that the industry will constantly come up with better ways of handling and improving the traffic flow."

Thomson backs up this view with examples such as Cisco's own CRSI system, which after being introduced in 2004 enabled the company's engineers to increase the data volume existing lines were capable of handling by over 700%.

With the company already working on improvements and its many competitors similarly focused on the problem of throughput, he maintains that while the issue of proliferating internet use provides a major challenge, it is certainly not insurmountable.

It seems that while the internet might not fall over completely, it is certainly in grave risk of slowing down. YouTube alone accounts for vast amounts of bandwidth use as thousands of Britons access amusing videos from across the Atlantic. With an increasing welter of business activity jostling for position across the same sub-sea cables, many commentators believe that before very long, anybody who wants to maintain today's high broadband speeds will have to pay extra to do so.

"The internet is the same as the highway system. There is a limit to how much traffic you can channel down the M25 before it grinds to a halt, and sooner or later you will have to direct some of it onto the minor country roads," said Guy. "This process will be replicated on the web. Before long service providers will have to examine the activity on their networks and decide how to prioritise it. Perhaps they will see business information as most important or maybe it will be video. Either way, within two years I believe that in order to guarantee first-class levels of service, customers will have to pay more."

This is a controversial view that strikes at the very heart of the democratic ideal of the web, a medium to which most people believe you should have equal access irrespective of your ability to pay. Unfortunately however, it is an argument that many believe has already been rendered moot. Whether you are a corporation with a vast fixed line or a home user on a cable modem, the speed and limitations of your internet connection depend entirely on the level of service you pay your ISP for, and this is highly unlikely to change any time soon.

"The internet isn't free and never has been. Service providers must be able to see the economic case for investing in extra capacity and in the end, subscribers will have to pay for that," said Rafuse.

"Although technology has made great leaps at backbone level, in order to cope with increasing demand there will have to be a great deal spent on the network that connects people's homes to their local exchange. Some of these cables are over 30 years old, and there needs to be a debate involving companies, governments and users if the UK is to come up with an effective replacement strategy."

Although the networking plans BT has in place for Scotland mean that the country is relatively well advanced in global terms, the link between these high- tech exchanges and users at home will still be running across ageing copper-wires designed only for voice calls. A recent Executive study into the broadband issue awoke criticism when it concluded that investing in replacing these is at present unnecessary.

Doubtless that issue will rumble on for years to come, but in the meantime many commentators believe that even if the web does not collapse this year, that does not excuse anybody of the need to urgently examine the burgeoning bandwidth problem.

Richard Hall, CTO at technology consultancy Avanade, said: "The web has not technically kept pace with its importance to users. Initially seen as information-only portals, people now turn to the web en masse and swamp systems. Banks, retailers, telcos and government departments must lead the way in these matters, because it is simply not excusable to fail.

"I am optimistic that technology can keep pace with demand for the web and spread the load, but if the web was to break, it would be with a whimper not a bang, as video feeds stutter and richer users, companies and countries switch to members only' networks and leave everyone else behind."

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