It's the Network, Stupid

It's official in my book.  At least for the near future, network performance is the limiting reagent for computing:

"Carrier networks aren’t set to handle five million tablets sucking down 5 gigabytes of data each month,” Philip Cusick, an analyst at Macquarie Securities, said.

Wireless carriers have drastically underestimated the network demand by consumers, which has been driven largely by the iPhone and its applications, he said. “It’s only going to get worse as streaming video gets more prevalent.”

An hour of browsing the Web on a mobile phone consumes roughly 40 megabytes of data. Streaming tunes on an Internet radio station like Pandora draws down 60 megabytes each hour. Watching a grainy YouTube video for the same period of time causes the data consumption to nearly triple. And watching a live concert or a sports event will consume close to 300 megabytes an hour.

Debates over the 16 nm node barrier and other theoretical limits of Moore's Law are certainly more interesting.  But in terms of what really constrains our ability to use technology, I think network issues will predominate.

Most people I know are reasonably happy with the speed of their computing devices, especially with newer devices.  But who doesn't wish for faster connectivity?

It's interesting how the size of operating systems are leveling off, or even getting smaller, and virtualization is helping to maximizing existing infrastructure.  Homegrown processing power is a sideshow.  The network is the main event.  Witness the rise of web apps, cloud computing, internet media, gaming, and an increasingly mobile or remotely-based workforce.  The trends don't bode well.

I'm not sure why industry was unprepared for this.  It's not as if these trends were unforeseeable. How we solve this emerging problem should be interesting.

D. Mark Jackson

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