The exabyte era

Vish Iyer, Vice President, Service Provider, West, Cisco India

An expansion of technological change and a rising wave of new forms of data are working a deep change in the Internet’s capabilities and uses. People are steadily moving online to watch movies and television shows, play multiplayer video games and talk over videoconference with family and friends.

According to Cisco’s global IP traffic forecast, consumer video will be responsible for much of the traffic growth between 2006 and 2011. The overall IP traffic is expected to grow to 29 exabytes per month by 2011, and over 21 exabytes of those are due to consumer traffic. Consumer traffic, in turn, is driven by IP transport of VoD, Internet video streams, downloads and other files through P2P. Just to give you an idea, an exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes.

The Internet however, is not going to collapse under the weight of streaming video. In fact the most formidable challenge that online video poses for the Internet will be flash crowds rather than the overall volume of traffic. In terms of absolute volume, much of the impact of video will be in the form of P2P file exchange and high-definition video content on P2P networks. P2P traffic is estimated to grow at about 33 percent per year, decreasing only slightly to 30 percent per year in 2011. Commercial VoD services available on the Internet will also continue to grow but when viewers don’t require the interactivity or portability of the PC or mobile device, viewers will tend to prefer commercial on-demand for the speed and ease with which they can access the content.

In addition to home users SMB’s are also increasingly using the Internet by adopting business grade VoIP, in virtually all its forms and thereby directly increasing sales. However, VoIP is not the only adoption, Web-based applications and Web-based operating systems are being accepted as more application providers open up access to their technology platform infrastructures, tools and knowledge bases. AMI. Partners Inc has forecast that the small business segment will grow at 69 percent on a cumulative basis for the next five years.

In the midst of this a mobile revolution is in progress, more people are connecting to the Internet using iPhones, Treos, and Blackberries which are not just phones but network computers. Rich content is going mobile, and for the first time, with the Apple-AT&T iPhone, mobile video is for real. With high resolution mobile displays and cameras, one can now consume and produce rich content anywhere, anytime. Apple recently sold one million iPhones within the first three days of the launch of its second version. With this the idea of consuming rich visual data like video clips and interactive satellite maps on mobile devices has become a reality. More people connected more of the time means more data and new traffic patterns.

The success of sites like YouTube and MySpace brings to light the social aspect of video. Here the driving force is the combination of communication and content and not content alone. This combination has shown itself to be powerful enough to have enticed millions of Internet users to do something they previously showed little interest in doing: watching low-quality video on a small screen. YouTube offers more than unique content; it offers a platform for social interaction. YouTube viewers are not watching video despite the computer screen, but because of it – the PC is ideal for interactivity where one can send, share, tag, clip, mash up, and chat.

This new medium of video over the Internet will change every realm of communication and content. The broadcast petabyte flows of radio and television will branch out into narrowcast, multicast and mobilecast streams. With real-time transactions and collaborations, rich images, video, and interactive virtual worlds, the Internet’s current content of static text and pictures will swell to form exabyte rivers.

Cisco forecasts that there will be three waves of Internet video. The first phase is experiencing a growth of internet video as viewed on the PC. Here the attraction of a social experience of video has ignited this wave. Once consumers are in the habit of watching online video, they are more likely to watch traditional video online as well. Even a straightforward, non-interactive, non-social video experience may prove attractive to viewers because the PC is personal and portable and the content that is not available through a commercial VoD service may be available online by the content provider.

The second phase will see a rise in internet delivery of video to the TV. The sheer volume of video is the defining factor of the second phase of Internet video traffic growth. Forty hours of high-definition video generate as much traffic as a million e-mail messages. In this situation minority will rule, the weight of high-definition video means that, in video as in P2P, a small percentage of users can generate the majority of traffic, which makes forecasting video traffic growth less predictable than browsing or e-mail traffic. This is especially the case with high-definition video traffic.

Finally the third phase will involve a surge in video communications. Beyond 2015 PC-based video calling will be significantly less encumbered than the videophone. The increasing use of video communication in the business arena will accelerate consumer adoption. Consumer and business technologies will form a reinforcing loop. Employees may bring video communication technologies home, just as consumers brought instant messaging to work Video communication is more than video calling it will encompass video sharing, video monitoring, consumer telepresence, and telemedicine thus initiating the third wave of video traffic.

Each of these phases will impact a different aspect of the network. The first two phases will be felt primarily in the metro and access network, while the third will impact the core. The first two waves of Internet video will pose a number of challenges to service provider networks but service providers have means of responding to these challenges, such as content delivery at the edge, push video distribution, and even P2P distribution.

It is the third wave of video communications that may be the most challenging, in that there are few means of coping with real-time video communications other than to transport it over the core. There is no way to cache real-time communications.

These three waves of Internet growth will however also offer many opportunities to service providers. In anticipation of the ‘Exaflood’ ISP’s will have to invest heavily in infrastructure. In a recent report released by the Discovery Institute, a provider of expert analysis and commentary on technology and public policy issues, the capacity of broadband access networks to homes and businesses must expand by a factor of between 10 and 100 over the next few years.

It is impossible to predict exactly when new applications that drive traffic will penetrate the market, how fast new broadband links will be built, and how fast they will be adopted by consumers and businesses. But a long list of exaflood applications are about to break through across the globe and drive a new round of dramatic Internet growth. YouTube has already exploded on the Internet scene, and their impact is being strongly felt. Other essential innovations, like fiber-speed electronic nodes, are just now being deployed. And new network, hardware, software, and application ideas will continue to come online for decades to come.

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