Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Friday, September 17, 2021

Cisco Sees Cloud Apps Fueling ‘Zettabyte Era’ 

Brace yourself for the Zettabyte Era.

That forecast comes from networking equipment giant Cisco Systems, which has released its latest Visual Networking Index that foresees global Internet Protocol traffic growing three-fold through 2018 to a hard-to-get-your-brain-around 1.6 zettabytes, or more than one and a half trillion gigabytes, per year.

(The concept of zettabytes is so new that automated spell checkers still don't recognize the word.)

Driving IP traffic over the next five years will be high-definition streaming video and the emerging network of intelligent devices popularly known as the Internet of Things. Traffic demand will be augmented by faster broadband speeds.

We talk about the traffic inside the datacenter a lot here at EnterpriseTech, and what is driving the compute, storage, and networking needs of hyperscale and enterprise datacenters, and this report shows where a lot of the traffic is coming from.

Much of the backbone supporting the expected torrent of IP traffic will be cloud applications and services, the Cisco index noted.

Beyond abundant cloud storage and services, such mind-boggling annual traffic forecasts also cry out for new data and video compression techniques that will be needed to squeeze projected IP traffic through existing and future broadband networks.

By 2018, IP video is expected to account for 79 percent of all Internet traffic, according to Cisco's survey. HD video is forecast to account for more than half of that traffic as "ultra-HD video," also referred to as "4K resolution video," emerges (11 percent of video traffic). A taste of what's to come is currently unfolding as millions around the globe view streaming video, some of it 4K video, from the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil.

Similarly, "global network connections" are seen jumping to nearly 21 billion by 2018 from the current 12.4 billion connections. One-third of those connections are expected to link devices, which works out to about one connection for every person on Earth based on a projected 2018 population of 7.6 human beings.

The Internet of Things, or machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, could literally be driven during the forecast period by the emergence of "smart cars" containing as many as four M2M modules per vehicle, Cisco estimated without citing a source.

Emerging Asian markets are expected to lead the surge in IP traffic, accounting for an estimated 36 percent of global traffic on a monthly basis. The combination of population and device density is expected to make Asia's IP networks groan under the strain of surging video and data demand.

Hence, Cisco urges service providers to adapt to the soaring number of smartphones, tablets, and M2M connections along with location and "augmented reality" services – plus whatever new wearable gadgets may emerge over the next five years (the index estimates we'll be wearing 177 million devices by 2018). These devices and cloud-based services along with new ones like ultra-HD streaming video "may create new bandwidth and scalability requirements for service providers," the networking company noted.

If as seems likely the Cisco forecast is in the ballpark, it would also have major implications for cloud computing since, as the index points out, "many Internet video applications can be categorized as cloud applications." According to the index, cloud applications will account for 90 percent of global mobile traffic data traffic by 2018.

Moreover, mobile cloud traffic is forecast to grow twelve-fold during the forecast period, a compound annual growth rate of 64 percent. One component of the projected growth in cloud traffic is online storage, although the forecast did not specify how much.

It's clear that much of the booming growth in IP traffic forecast by Cisco is made possible by cloud computing and storage. For example, the forecast notes that "mobile devices have memory and speed limitations that might prevent them from acting as media consumption devices, were it not for cloud applications and services."

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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