Gauging the volume

What to expect in data storage and network traffic growth

The hockey stick growth projections for data storage and network traffic don't look like they will level off anytime soon. So plan to stock up on disks (or get smarter about data management) and get ready to install fatter network pipes (or get more serious about WAN optimization).

Also read: Virtual, mobile, social endeavors drive IT in 2011

Data is growing in enterprise storage banks at 50% per year, says Tam Dell'Oro, founder and president of Dell'Oro Group, a research and consulting firm.

The average Fortune 1,000 company has about 1.2 petabytes of disk-based storage today (a PB being 1,000 terabytes), according to TheInfoPro. So, if these organizations continue to increase capacity at the rate suggested by Dell'Oro, they will need to accommodate about 9PB by 2015.

The trend is being fueled by changing work habits, increasingly stringent compliance mandates that require more electronic record-keeping and falling storage costs, according to Dell'Oro and others.

In terms of cost, IDC says the price per gigabyte of storage is declining by 25% to 30% per year. At that rate, it is often easier to add resources than try to squeeze more out of what you have.

"As you make something cheaper, people buy more of it," says Chuck Hollis, vice president and CTO at enterprise storage giant EMC. Hollis says EMC saw 12% more dollars spent on storage in 2010 than in 2009, even though unit prices were falling.

New developments in healthcare, utility, retail and other vertical industries are also driving the need to hold onto more data, Hollis says.

"Healthcare reform in the U.S. is driving monstrous numbers of digitization projects," he says, and there are direct financial incentives to get patient medical records converted into electronic form. "The more information they can digitize, the better healthcare they can provide."

Likewise, utilities running smart grids are collecting "billions and billions of records," and retailers are "storing data about customers, their behaviors and metrics" to better target merchandising and sales, Hollis adds.

Uncle Sam is also contributing to the load, says Dell'Oro. She points out that Sarbanes-Oxley regulations keep getting stricter, putting the squeeze on increasingly smaller companies and lower departmental levels. That results in more "stuff" getting socked away in virtual filing cabinets in case auditors come calling.

Similarly, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) continues to cover more ground. Consider telemedicine, which is yielding more video-based remote patient consultations.

"HIPAA requires you to store those video sessions," says Arielle Sumits, lead analyst on Cisco's 2010 Visual Network Index (VNI) report.

The VNI is an annual deep-dive into IP traffic growth that Cisco conducts.

It goes without saying that data storage growth translates into WAN traffic demands, but those demands are whipsawed by two macro trends: data centralization, a byproduct of data center consolidation; and worker dispersion, driven by efforts to get employees out in front of customers and accommodate telework and other flex employment options.

Worldwide managed IP WAN business traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% through 2014, while business Internet traffic will climb at a 20% CAGR rate, according to Cisco's VNI. While healthy, this growth pales in comparison to mobile data growth, for which the company has assigned a CAGR of 93% over the same time period.

Cisco bases its projections on three main sources, Sumits says: monthly data shared by 20 global network service providers; data collected from a free Cisco usage-tracking mobile application in use by 350,000 users; and usage data collected by the FCC and other government regulators around the world.

The company also factors in projections from more than 16 industry research firms, among them ABI Research, Dell'Oro and IDC, Sumits says.

What's actually on the network?

Most traffic types are growing at a double-digit clip. VoIP is a notable exception, growing at a mere 4% CAGR worldwide, according to Cisco's 2010 VNI, compared with a 29% CAGR for Web data and 48% CAGR for video. The Cisco VNI indicates that in 2010, there was about 17 times more data than VoIP traffic on IP networks.

The most demanding traffic is video, says Alan Weckel, a director at Dell'Oro. And it is only going to get worse. "We're in the early stages of video becoming prevalent on the desktop," Weckel says.

Not only are more video applications emerging, from IP surveillance to office daycare Webcam feeds and healthcare imaging. Driving much of the traffic increase is the quality of the video, Sumits says. A high definition WAN video conference session, for example, can require more than 20Mbps.

Cisco predicts that by 2014 91% of global network traffic will be video.

Mobile growth spurt

The biggest growth in 2011 will be in mobile data traffic. For business traffic alone, North American mobile data will grow 117% from 2010 to 2011, Cisco's Sumits estimates.

ABI Research is more conservative in its outlook. Dan Shey, enterprise practice director, sees North American business mobile data traffic growing 41% from 2010 to 2011, from about 198PB to 280PB.

Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless at The 451 Group, points to growing use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) options as having a large impact on data networks in general and something to watch out for with mobile networks. Obviously with SaaS, all application calls involve the network.

"How much data are SaaS applications using? It's tough to know, Hazelton says, and might not matter so much in the wired world. But if employees are hitting that app from smartphones it "could eat up a mobile data plan fast."

ABI's Shey projects that retail, healthcare and government will represent the top three verticals for smartphone use, comprising about 44% of the smartphone installed base over the next five years. However, those verticals might not actually generate the lion's share of wireless WAN traffic because they are likely to offload much of it onto Wi-Fi networks indoors, he says.

We have Apple to thank for the mobile data surge, which ignited with the iPhone launch in 2007. The multimedia, bandwidth-intensive nature of smartphone apps that have rolled out since has sent mobile broadband operators scurrying to enhance network capacity to keep up. In turn, the mobile apps - now used by consumers and enterprises alike - are quick to fill those pipes right back up.

And so it continues.

Wexler is an independent network technology writer/editor in Silicon Valley and author of Network World's Wireless Alert newsletter.

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