Could Internet congestion kill the cloud?

Traffic congestion could overwhelm the internet within the next 4-5 years, forcing data centers to move back to a distributed model and darkening the prospects for cloud computing. In the future, data centers will be distributed to minimize data movement.

That's the the word from "the top infrastructure provider in networking," which made those comments recently during a call with a strategic partner, according to the CTO of the latter company.

By the vendor's calculations, the growth in network traffic -- which it says will grow 30 to 50 fold over 4 to 5 years -- will exceed the anticipated bandwidth needs of the internet infrastructure. Not only is the bandwidth of the current backbone incapable of supporting that demand, but investments in backbone upgrades won't keep pace, the vendor predicts.

The result: A movement away from consolidated, monolithic data centers with heavy bandwidth needs and back to more distributed model.

That scenario sounds a little bit dubious to me. An increase in bandwidth of that size would no doubt be driven by high-definition audio and video streaming. But while a congested internet would bog down such bandwidth-intensive applications, most data center applications don't move nearly as many bits around -- particularly those accessed using virtual infrastructures. Given that, it's hard to believe that network performance could be bogged down so severely that it would reverse the course of today's massive data center consolidation efforts, or slow down the movement to cloud computing.

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