How The Internet Will Become The ‘Exanet’ – Forbes

People hold up laptops while filming a video underneath signage outside a YouTube Inc. office in the Playa Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The surge in online television viewing is spurring a wave of big real estate deals, as companies such as Netflix, Inc. and Google snap up space to cope with increased production demands. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Today’s Internet has transformed media and delivered prodigious value to consumers, in entertainment, ecommerce, and personal productivity.

Yet the next waves of the Internet will extend to new industries in the physical world, delivering a far greater variety of services and requiring connectivity that is even faster, more ubiquitous, and more robust than today. To drive and accommodate this information embrace by the real economy, we’ll need something bigger and better than the Internet. We’ll need the “exanet.”

In 2016, global Internet traffic likely topped 1,000 exabytes. A thousand exabytes equals one zettabyte (ZB), or a billion trillion (1021) bytes, which is roughly 114 million years of high-definition video. Over the last 20 years, since the dawn of the dot-com era in 1996, monthly Internet traffic has grown around 90 million-fold. 

This onrushing flood of data is largely due to Web video, which took off just a dozen years ago, first with YouTube, then Netflix, and now with Facebook, Snapchat, HBO, FaceTime, sports leagues, and endless others. At the same time, mobile devices supercharged video consumption because they allowed billions of people to watch anytime, anywhere, not just after dinner on the couch. YouTube reported yesterday that its viewers now watch more than one billion hours of video a day, and more than 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute. 

Cloud traffic, which includes server-to-server traffic within and between data centers, is even larger – 6.5 zettabytes in 2016, according to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index. Exemplary of the cloud boom is Amazon Web Services. Ten years ago, cloud computing was a crazy idea from an online book retailer to sell ultra-cheap remote data storage and computing power. But in just a decade Amazon’s cloud service grew from zero to $12.2 billion in sales, and Google, Microsoft, and IBM are now chasing hard.

To deliver this data to consumer’s homes and phones and to businesses, network firms in the U.S. alone invested more than $1.5 trillion in broadband infrastructure over the last two decades. Despite the Internet’s creatively disruptive power, however, information technology has truly revolutionized only around 20% of the economy, sectors like media, entertainment, software, finance, and professional services, to name a few. The rest of the economy – the 80% comprised of health care, education, transportation, manufacturing, energy, and retail, etc. – has yet to fully deploy and capitalize on information technology. 

The next phase of the Internet will thus not only bring virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to entertainment and games but also to education, training, and manufacturing. The next phase will of course deliver more 4K video than ever, but it will also have to connect tens of millions of cars, and tens of billions of cameras, industrial sensors, geolocation tags, and medical devices (in what we often refer to as the Internet of Things, or IoT). 

The Internet was not conceived to be the commercial, social, and industrial platform for the entire planet. (The founders, for example, didn’t think too much about security, and the TCP/IP protocol, while in some ways ingenious, is less than ideal for many modern applications.) The Internet’s unlikely success is a testament to the network firms that figured out how to massively scale an experimental project and to the entrepreneurs who invented so many helpful and bizarre ways to exploit the newfound bandwidth. 


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