Net Capacity: Time to Widen the Road?
Even with peer-to-peer solutions like the one being deployed by Verisign, infrastructure upgrades to add capacity will have to be made over the long term to meet growing consumer demand for high-capacity content delivered over the Net. "The more you eat," said VeriSign's Ken Silva, "the hungrier you get."
Fears that traffic demands on the Internet are outstripping the Net's capacity to handle them may be premature, though continuous Net growth will necessitate new networking techniques and technologies in the future.
Much of the fear that traffic would overwhelm capacity can be linked to growth figures in recent times.
For example, according to Washington, D.C.-based TeleGeography Research, the research division of PriMetrica, average worldwide traffic on the Net grew 104 percent in 2004, while capacity grew just 45 percent; in 2005, traffic grew 50 percent, while capacity grew only 43 percent; and in 2006, traffic grew 74 percent, while capacity increased just 46 percent.
However, that trend appears to have reversed itself this year, with traffic growing 57 percent and capacity rising 68 percent.
"This tends to be the kind of thing that's very cyclical," Telegeography Senior Analyst Eric Schoonover told TechNewsWorld. "Traffic will grow faster one year and capacity doesn't grow very fast, then the next year capacity will grow to compensate for the fast traffic growth in the previous year."
On average, he asserted, capacity is keeping pace with traffic.
"In spite of all the talk about network congestion, the rate of growth has slowed down," Andrew M. Odlyzko, director of the Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
At the height of the Internet bubble 12 years ago, traffic was growing at 100 percent a year, he noted; now it's dropped off to 50 percent annually.
Nevertheless, concern abounds that bandwidth hogging applications will swamp the Net's capacity to deal with traffic demands placed on it.
"With YouTube and dozens of imitators generating over 100 million user-generated videos a day, today's Internet traffic is piling up rapidly in a non-stop 'digital rush hour' jam that could wind up in gridlock," the New Millennium Research Council stated last week in a report on Internet traffic and capacity.
TeleGeography's Schoonover, though, was skeptical about video demand overwhelming the Net.
"I don't foresee that," he said. "I think capacity will always compensate for additional demand.
"As demand increases and more high-capacity applications come online, the carriers will learn how to deal with that," he continued.
"Things like CDNs (content delivery networks), traffic shaping and other technologies are being deployed so that carriers have better control over the traffic itself and how that affects the network," he added.
P2P to the Rescue?
One traffic shaping method is being deployed by Verisign, of Mountain View, Calif., an operator of intelligent infrastructure services and registrar of the .com and .net domains.
It has a scheme that uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to reduce network traffic.
"Our peer-to-peer method for content delivery doesn't totally reduce the bandwidth requirement. It distributes it in a way that's not so centralized," VeriSign Chief Security Officer Ken Silva told TechNewsWorld.
The method allows the bandwidth requirements for content delivery to be pushed out to where it can be distributed within segments of networks rather than across multiple networks, he explained.
However, he acknowledged, even with peer-to-peer solutions like Verisign's, infrastructure upgrades to add capacity will have to be made over the long term to meet growing consumer demand for high-capacity content delivered over the Net. "The more you eat," he said. "the hungrier you get."
U.S. Competitiveness At Stake
"Today, there have been no major system-wide problems of actually delivering the content that people want," Avi Freedman, distinguished software engineer at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., told TechNewsWorld. "But it will definitely be interesting to watch for the next couple of years."
That's because traditional content delivery methods will be increasingly taxed in the coming years, he maintained.
"We're concerned whether you'll be able to do the same thing in three years that you do today, and you were able to do a decade ago," he observed, "which is put some servers in a building in one place and serve all the users who want your content all over the world."
Capacity concerns extend beyond whether or not consumers can watch the latest episode of their favorite TV shows on their computers without mishap. Traffic capacity can influence the nation's ranking as an economic power.
"The reason [Americans] dominate e-commerce today is that we were the first country to deploy the Internet quickly," contended the University of Minnesota's Odlyzko. "If other nations solve their capacity problems before we do, then they're going to create the next set of world-beating companies."