Cisco and the Zettabytes Internet

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Almost no one knows what a zettabyte is. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) uses the term to measure the volume of data center IP traffic. According to the router giant, “Annual global data center IP traffic will reach 4.8 zettabytes by the end of 2015.” Cisco does not make clear whether the internet can handle this volume without large hardware upgrades, which is a problem.

In its new “Global Cloud Index and Methodology: 2010 – 2015,” Cisco points out the obvious. The growth of broadband and the amount of data that has to be moved from point-to-point has exploded, and it will continue to do so. Cisco has advice for how this can be done seamlessly. It comes as no surprise that the solution involves the use of Cisco products.

Cloud computing will be essential to the growth of data storage and traffic. The use of the cloud is already important to companies like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which has its applications available on its servers so that customers can access their information directly from nearly any point in the world. Consumer applications also have grown as firms such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) make more of their multimedia products available on the cloud.

Cisco’s conclusion is that much of the internet’s structure and server centers are probably too immature to be ready for the world of IP use in 2015:

In terms of data center and cloud traffic, we are firmly in the zettabyte era. Global datacenter traffic will grow fourfold from 2010 to 2015 and reach 4.8 zettabytes annually by 2015. A subset of data center traffic is cloud traffic, which will grow 12-fold over the forecast period and represent over one-third of all data center traffic by 2015 . A key traffic driver as well as an indicator of the transition to cloud computing is increasing data center virtualization. The growing number of end user devices combined with consumer and business users preference or need to stay connected is creating new network requirements. The evolution of cloud services is driven in large part by users’ expectations to access applications and content anytime, from anywhere, over any network and with any device. Cloud-based data centers can support more virtual machines and workloads per physical server than traditional datacenters. By 2014, more than 50% of all workloads will be processed in the cloud.

From a cloud readiness perspective, the study covers the importance of broadband ubiquity. Based on the regional average download and upload speeds and latencies for business and consumer connections, all regions can support some level of cloud services. However, few regions’ average network characteristics are currently able to support the high-end advanced cloud apps.

Parts of the world will have to make hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in upgrades to operate in the zettabytes world — a world that only a few people can imagine because the hardware and advance software needed will be so complex.

Few people know what a zettabyte is. It is a measure of internet traffic. Cisco is worried that the internet cannot hold the weight of the data rush that is coming. Cisco routers and server products might be the only solution. At least Cisco hopes so.

Douglas A. McIntyre