Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a talk by Andrew Odlyzko. It was definitely one of the best talks I've ever been to. The title was "Internet evolution and misleading network paths".
He started by showing a very interesting graph that illustrates that research is usually out of sync with reality:
The graph shows the number of publications per year (from First Monday). As one can see, the 1990s seemed to have been the ATM research decade, while Ethernet was lagging way behind... we know where we are now, so Andrew made his point very clear.
He continued by presenting several misleading dogmas that have impeded reform and restructuring of networks (one example: "carriers can develop new services"), and the rest of the talk focused on these dogmas.
His main claim was that the threat to the Internet was not much traffic. On the contrary, it is little traffic. He argues by showing results from the MINTS project in which he is involved: traffic growth rate is slowing down, and this figure is now of 50%/60% per year, globally (but with exceptions). He made some simple calculations to show that with this growth there is no need to increase expenditure on networking: if we increase traffic from 100 to 150, and we assume a decrease of unit cost from 100 to 67 (33% seems an acceptable number), then total cost will be the same... But, he underlined, if broadcast TV moves itself to the Internet (especially with HDTV), things will surely change. Abruptly.
He also mentioned cloud computing: "don't expect everything in the cloud soon - or ever!". He argues that there is too much information in computers, and that would take literally years to put everything from your disks to the cloud (transmission is lagging way behind). But one of my PhD supervisors, Jon, criticises this (correctly, in my point of view) in one of his blogs (a great summary of the talk, by the way): we only need to transmit the residual.
Another interesting point was the idea that volume is not value. Again, absolutely correct, and excelent arguments. Check the revenue per MB of each of these services: SMS = $1000; Cellular call = $1; Fixed call = $0.1; Residential net = $0.01; backbone traffic = $0.0001.
He also claims, with reason, that the long haul is cheap, compared to the rest: "long haul is not where the action is".
In the past, as today, the dominant types of communications are business and social, not content, he added. And he stressed the importance of oral communication with a superb example: "would we attend a talk if there were no slides?". Everybody's answer: "yes". And would we attend if no one was allowed to speak (including the speaker)? Everybody's answer: "no". Good point! "And why don't we have a non-disruptive (like e-mail) voice messaging service yet?"
He also pointed out that there is no point in streaming real data - we need faster than real time (Jon has mentioned this too very well in his blog mentioned above).
He finalised with predictions for the future network. I close this post with them:
1. dumb pipes
2. over provisioning ("waste that which is plentiful", George Gilder)
3. dominated by computer to computer interaction, driven by human impatience
4. horizontal layering, structural separation
5. market segmented by size of dumb pipe