Internet overload: Surviving the exaflood

The internet: Predictions that an “exaflood” of traffic will overload the internet have been doing the rounds. But will it really happen?Video killed the radio star. Might its next victim be the internet? The popularity of YouTube, BitTorrent and other online-video services has prompted many gloomy prophesies that the net is on the verge of collapsing under the load. Starting the ball rolling was Brett Swanson of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank, who warned in early 2007 of a coming deluge of data that “today’s networks are not remotely prepared to handle”, and used a catchy name for it: the “exaflood”. (An exabyte is 1018 bytes, or one billion gigabytes.)Nemertes, a market-research firm, issued a warning in November 2007 that “user demand for the internet could outpace capacity by 2010”, and speculated that this would both inconvenience users and hamper innovation. In May 2008, at a symposium to discuss the matter held by the Internet Innovation Alliance, an industry body, there was further talk of imminent overload, and a warning that a lack of internet bandwidth posed a serious risk to American competitiveness — unless tens of billions of dollars were quickly invested in infrastructure. The global cost of upgrading the internet to prevent a decline in service has been put by Nemertes at $137 billion; network operators in North America, it says, are spending 60-70% less than they should be to keep pace with demand.

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