Cloud-based services for all things digital will either drive – or die by – bandwidth
Consumers, by definition, consume. In the realm of the Internet, they consume far more than they produce. Or so it’s been in the past. Broadband connectivity across all providers have long offered asymmetric network feeds because it mirrored reality: an HTTP request is significantly smaller than its corresponding response, and in general web-based activity is heavily biased toward fat download and thin upload speeds. The term “broadband” is really a misnomer, as it focuses only on the download speed and ignores the very narrowband of a typical consumer’s upload speed.
cloud computing , or to be more accurate, cloud-hosted services aimed at consumers may very well change the status quo by necessity. As providers continue to push the notion of storing all things digital “in the cloud”, network providers must consider the impact on them – and the satisfaction of their customer base with performance over their network services.
Today we’re hearing about the next evolutionary step in Internet connectivity services: wideband. It’s a magnitude faster than broadband (enabled by the DOCSIS 3.0 standard) and it’s being pushed heavily by cable companies. Those with an eye toward the value proposition will quickly note that the magnitude of growth is nearly entirely on download speeds, with very little attention to growth on the upside of the connection. A fairly standard “wideband” package from provider Time Warner Cable, for example, touts “50 Mbps down X 5 Mbps up.” (DSL Reports, 2011)
Unfortunately, that’s not likely enough to satiate the increasing need for more upstream bandwidth created by the “market” for sharing high-definition video, large data, real-time video conferencing (hang out in Google+ anyone?) and the push to store all things digital in “the cloud.”
It’s suggested that “these activities require between 10 and 100 mbps upload and download speed.” (2010 Report on Internet Speeds in All 50 States, Speed Matters)
Wideband is certainly a step in the right direction; Speed Matters also reported that in 2010:
The median download speed for the nation in 2010 was 3.0 megabits per second (mbps) and the median upload speed was 595 kilobits per second (kbps).2 (1000 kilobits equal 1 megabit). These speeds are only slightly faster than the 2009 speedmatters.org results of 2.5 mbps download and 487 kbps upload. In other words, between 2009 and 2010, the median download speed increased by only 0.5 mbps (from 2.5 mbps to 3.0 mbps), and the average upload speed barely changed at all (from 487 kbps to 595kbps).
You’ll note that upload speeds are still being reported in kbps, which even converted is significantly below the 10 mbps threshold desired for today’s cloud and video-related activities. Even “wide”band offerings fall short of the suggested 10 mbps upload speeds.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
This leaves us in a situation in which either Internet providers must narrow the gap between up- and down-stream speeds or cloud-based service providers may find their services failing in adoption by the consumer market. Consumers, especially the up and coming “digital” generations, are impatient. Unwilling to wait more than a few seconds, they are quick to abandon services which do not meet their exacting view of how fast the Internet should be.
Other options include a new focus for web and WAN optimization vendors – the client. Desktop and mobile clients for WAN optimization solutions that leverage deduplication and compression techniques as ways to improve performance over bandwidth constrained connections may be one option and it may be the best option for cloud-based service providers to avoid the middle-man and its likely increased costs to loosen bandwidth constraints. Another truth of consumerism is that while we want it faster, we don’t necessarily want to pay for the privilege. A client-service based WAN optimization solution bypasses the Internet service provider, allowing the cloud-based service provider to deploy a server-side WAN optimization controller and a client-side WAN optimization endpoint to enable deduplication and compression techniques to more effectively – and with better performance and reliability – transfer data to and from the provider.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however, as it requires a non-trivial amount work on the part of the provider to deploy and manage both the server and client-side components.
That said, the investment may be well worth increasing adoption among consumers – especially if the provider in question is banking on a cloud-based services offering as the core value proposition to its offerings.