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Network traffic approaches zettabyte horizon

Cisco is predicting a wave of IP traffic: mobility, the Internet of Things and data management drive the trend. Here’s what IT decision makers can learn from the vendor’s latest report.


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The networking industry is about to reach a significant milestone, says technology provider Cisco. In its report The Zettabyte Era—Trends and Analysis, the company predicts that annual global IP traffic will surpass 1,000 exabytes (EB) — or one zettabyte (ZB) — by the end of this year. IP traffic volume is expected to reach 2.3ZB annually by 2020.

Additional eye-opening measurements from the report: traffic to and from smartphones will exceed that of computers by 2020 — which suggests that the smartphone could take its place atop the communications-technology pyramid.

As well, traffic associated with wireless devices (not only smartphones but also mobile computers using Wi-Fi) will account for 66 per cent of the global volume by 2020, up from 48 per cent in 2015. Clearly, communication wants to be free of wires.

Now we’re really outnumbered, people

There will be more than three times as many web-connected devices as people by 2020, according to Cisco. “A growing number of M2M applications, such as smart meters, video surveillance, healthcare monitoring, transportation, and package or asset tracking are contributing in a major way to the growth of devices and connections,” the company says.

Bigger broadband could be on tap, too. Cisco figures speeds will reach 47.7 Mbps on average by 2020, up from 24.7 Mbps in 2015. That’s good news for businesses. With greater Internet speeds, they’ll be able to support novel services — think enhanced e-commerce platforms. That said, businesses in some areas would benefit more than others since bandwidth availability varies from place to place.

Cisco’s zettabyte-era report touches on all of the topics noted above plus trends in information security, overall traffic patterning and traffic growth by application type. It’s worth a scan to see if any of the other details it covers speak to you and your organization.

Be warned, this isn’t the first time Cisco has said the zettabyte era is about to arrive. The company made similar predictions in its Visual Networking Index (VNI) over the past few years and it hasn’t happened yet. As Enterprise Networking Planet editor Sean Michael Kermer noted in his analysis, the technology company regularly revisits its predictions based on real traffic patterns. So it might be too soon to say for sure that the zettabyte era is around the corner.

Two main takeaways

Setting that aside, IT decision makers can learn from the latest report. Two main points: first, wireless and mobile communications clearly lead the market. IT managers should prioritize those sorts of connections in their network development plans.

Second, data storage and management could be the keys to capitalizing on what surely is an increase in information generated and travelling the world’s communications infrastructure. Whether or not we actually do cross the zettabyte threshold, organizations would be wise to take a close look at their data systems to ensure they’re ready to handle so much volume.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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