Update: Bandwidth Consumption and the IT Professionals that are Tasked to Preserve It

“What is the Great Bandwidth Arms Race? Simply put, it is the sole reason my colleague gets up and goes to work each day. It is perhaps the single most important aspect of his job—the one issue that is always on his mind, from the moment he pulls into the campus parking lot in the morning to the moment he pulls into his driveway at home at night. In an odd way, the Great Bandwidth Arms Race is the exact opposite of the “Prime Directive” from Star Trek: rather than a mandate of noninterference, it is one of complete and intentional interference. In short, my colleague’s job is to effectively manage bandwidth consumption at our university. He is a technological gladiator, and the Great Bandwidth Arms Race is his arena, his coliseum in which he regularly battles conspicuous bandwidth consumption.”

The excerpt above is from an article written by Paul Cesarini, a Professor at Bowling Green University back 2007. It would be interesting to get some comments and updates from Paul at some point, but for now, I’ll provide an update from the vendor perspective.

Since 2007, we have seen a big drop in P2P traffic that formerly dominated most networks. A report from bandwidth control vendor Sandvine tends to agree with our observations.

Sandvine Report
— The growth of Netflix, the decline of P2P traffic, and the end of the PC era are three notable aspects of a new report by network equipment company Sandvine. Netflix accounted for 27.6% of downstream U.S. Internet traffic in the third quarter, according to Sandvine’s “Global Internet Phenomena Report” for Fall 2011. YouTube accounted for 10 percent of downstream traffic and BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol, accounted for 9 percent.”

We also agree with Sandvine’s current findings that video is driving bandwidth consumption; however, for the network professionals entrenched in the battle of bandwidth consumption, there is another factor at play which may indicate some hope on the horizon.

There has been a precipitous drop on raw bandwidth costs over the past 10 years. Commercial bandwidth rates have dropped from around $100 or more per megabit to as little as $10 per megabit. So the question now is: Will the availability of lower-cost bandwidth catch up to the demand curve? In other words, will the tools and human effort put into the fight against managing bandwidth become moot? And if so, what is the time frame?

I am going to go out halfway on limb and claim we are seeing bandwidth catch up with demand and hence the battle for the IT professional is going to subside over the coming years.

The reason for my statement is that once we get to a price point where most consumers can truly send and receive interactive video (note this is the not the same as ISPs using caching tricks), we will see some of the pressure spent on micro-managing bandwidth consumption with human labor ease up. Yes, there will be consumers that want HD video all the time, but with a few rules in your bandwidth control device you will be able allow certain levels of bandwidth consumption through, including low resolution video for Skype and YouTube, without crashing your network. Once we are at this point, the pressure for making trade-offs on specific kinds of consumption will ease off a bit.  What this implies is that the cost of human labor to balance bandwidth needs will be relegated to dumb devices and perhaps obsolete this one aspect of the job for an IT professional.

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