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Unleashing the ‘Exaflood’

By BRET SWANSON and GEORGE GILDER storage) is 50,000 times larger than a digitized capabilities to ensure robust service for increasingly
February 22, 2008; Page A15 Library of Congress. By the end of 2006, annual U.S. demanding consumers. But none of this can happen
Internet traffic was around 10 exabytes. if we regulate complex network traffic engineering
Two decades ago, Sun Microsystems prophesied: As new fiber-optic wireline and 3G wireless and experimental business plans.
“The network is the computer.” Today, BitTorrent networks from AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox and All networks use some form of traffic management,
video and 3D graphics flood the Internet, Apple Cogent bring us real broadband for the first time, the whether crude or complex. As our colleague Ken
iPhones tap the Net’s computing power, and PC-king nature and volume of Net traffic is changing Ferree notes, every industry, from grocery store
Microsoft pursues Net-centric Yahoo. Sun’s mantra dramatically. By mid-2007, Microsoft Video Calling “express lines” to “singles” ski-lift lines, attempts to
has become reality. was generating as many bytes as the entire Internet in shape and manage demand. Today’s communications
But as the Internet booms and moves to the center 1997. networks buffer, label, parse, schedule, prioritize,
of the global economic sphere, it draws proportional Cisco’s newest video-conferencing system requires route, switch, modify, replicate, police and meter the
attention from politicians and regulators. In Congress 15 megabits per second in each direction. A one-hour bits flowing through their links and nodes. New
and at the FCC, legislators and lawyers think they conference call could thus produce 13.5 gigabytes, pricing schemes that charge per byte consumed
can manage overflowing Net traffic and commerce which is more than a high-definition movie. Just 75 might also help to manage supply and demand on the
better than the network companies themselves. Next of these Cisco conference calls would equal the Internet.
week, the FCC is meeting en banc at Harvard Law entire Internet traffic of the year 1990. The petitions under consideration at the FCC and
School to consider two petitions that seek to ban Netflix, which is gradually moving from the post the Markey net neutrality bill would set an entirely
network “traffic management.” The meeting’s host, office to the Net, last year shipped 1.8 million DVDs new course for U.S. broadband policy, marking every
Rep. Ed Markey, has renewed his pursuit of a far- every day. If converted to high definition, Netflix network bit and byte for inspection, regulation and
reaching Internet regulatory regime known as “net would have mailed 5.8 exabytes of motion pictures, possible litigation. Every price, partnership,
neutrality.” or almost half the size of the entire U.S. Internet of advertisement and experimental business plan on the
These regulatory efforts overlook a fundamental 2007. Net would have to look to Washington for
shift: An upsurge of technological change and a Building on rapid advances in Nvidia and ATI permission. Many would be banned. Wall Street will
rising tide of new forms of data are deeply graphics processors, one 3D multiplayer game (such not deploy the needed $100 billion in risk capital if
transforming the Internet's capabilities and uses. as Second Life or World of Warcraft) with one Mr. Markey, digital traffic cop, insists on policing
The first phase of the Net was the original Arpanet million users could generate more than an exabyte every intersection of the Internet.
research project that connected a few, and then a few per year of network traffic, or almost a tenth of last Capacious, big-bandwidth networks will transcend
thousand, scientists. The second phase brought the year’s U.S. Internet volume. many of today’s specific complaints. As raw capacity
Internet to the masses, with the advent of the World expands, more and more applications and users can
Wide Web, the graphical browser and email in the
__________________________________________________ peacefully coexist. But inevitably, sophisticated
network users with innovative applications will find
mid-1990s. Internet traffic boomed 100-fold between
1994 and 1996. In the third phase of Net evolution, The U.S. Internet will grow creative ways to push the boundaries of capacity on
certain network links, and some bits will be shuffled
network architecture and commercial business plans
reflect the dominance of rich video and interactive 50-fold by 2015. and queued.
The network is now a global computer made up of
media traffic.
The third wave is now swelling into an exaflood, _________________________ hardware, software and human minds. But this new,
or torrent, of Internet and Internet Protocol (IP) fast-changing and highly organic computer is no
traffic. There’s YouTube, IPTV, high-definition In a new Discovery Institute report, we estimate more easily regulated than were the circuits, storage,
images and “cloud computing”—in which that, by 2015, U.S. IP traffic will reach an annual memory and protocols of a mainframe or PC.
individuals and businesses use the centralized total of 1,000 exabytes, or one million million billion Leaving it to Washington agencies and committees to
computing resources of Google and IBM data bytes. The U.S. Internet will thus be 50 times larger engineer the exaflood would be an act of
centers, instead of the local computing resources of by 2015, equal to 50 million Libraries of Congress. unimaginable folly.
their own PCs or office systems. Not to mention the This will require some $100 billion in new Internet Mr. Swanson is a senior fellow and director of the
ubiquitous mobile camera. infrastructure in the U.S. over the next five years. Center for Global Innovation at The Progress &
To give you an idea of the scope, an exabyte (a We need a dramatic expansion in raw capacity, or Freedom Foundation. Mr. Gilder is a senior fellow at
one-quintillion byte unit of information or computer bandwidth, and also fine-grained traffic management the Discovery Institute.

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