Will New Types of Cloud Apps Spike Bandwidth Demands? Better Not Bet On That

Brian Washburn

Brian Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • New innovations in cloud services are mostly bandwidth conservative: basics such as video streaming and a richer web are demand drivers.
  • If you must bet on where your company’s future networking demands will come from, look at existing app types, not revolutionary cloud apps.

We’ve all seen Internet traffic growth statistics: those ‘hockey stick’ charts aren’t doubling every year anymore.  However, given the enormity of today’s traffic volumes, a sustainable compound annual growth rates of 23% (such as projected by Cisco Systems) still makes for mind-boggling increases.  VoIP, video (streaming and conferencing), richer web experiences, mobile devices, M2M: there’s always a new device or application to fuel traffic demand.  Enterprise buyers end up in a rough equilibrium; every year, bandwidth prices go down, but Internet/WAN traffic goes up and the overall contract remains roughly stable.

So when it comes to cloud, where are the future demands for bandwidth likely to come from?  Obviously, cloud services figure big in any networking growth plans, but let’s dissect and parse that.  There might be a lot of value in new types of hosted cloud innovations, but when it comes to bandwidth demand, it’s better to look at the base:

‘Traditional’ applications, lumping together Internet-style apps we’ve all seen for years now, continue to be the growth engine.  Web surfing, video streaming and software downloads are joined by the social media revolution.  Even cloud storage can fit in this category, as a straightforward and mature application.  There are great things to say about each of these applications categories.  In cloud terms, however, it’s not revolutionary.  The models are well-established.  It’s about serving up web pages, handling e-commerce or supporting up/downloads.

Converged communications, in turn, have been good both to sellers and buyers.  These include IP telephony, a range of video conferencing and collaboration services.  Video conferencing, especially at the high end, can drive both new bandwidth demands and performance requirements.  These services are well established, but there is plenty of potential to do more.

General-purpose hosted productivity apps have been rising fast, such as workspace-as-a-service, or Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps.  These fresher cloud innovations have been around for a while, but only recently have gone mainstream.  Unless users are pushing around large files and printstreams, these applications are thrifty on bandwidth.  When multiplied by hundreds or thousands of desktops in a location, it may drive some new capacity.

Specialized hosted applications still have a lot of untapped potential, for vendors to host business software in the cloud.  There are some early established successes such as Salesforce.com or ZenDesk.  Other tasks could include accounting, human resources, project management or inventory management; these types of applications are very high value to businesses, but barring large file transfers, most of them are bandwidth-sippers.

Cloud-based virtual networking as a catch-all comes in several forms, whether fancy concepts such as network function virtualization or just new types of network and device management.  These high-value services can relieve businesses from managing network infrastructure.  They generally shouldn’t generate new bandwidth demand.

What does all this mean?  Just that, if you’re in network operations, placing bets where your company’s future demand will come from and must choose between ‘revolutionary new cloud innovation’ and ‘Internet video streams’ – bet on the video streams.

About Brian Washburn
Brian Washburn is Research Director for Network Services at Current Analysis. Brian tracks the technology and initiatives surrounding carrier Ethernet, IP-VPNs, optical networking and applications closely tied to high-performance networking.

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