Technological hurdles: 2012 and beyond

Tinniam V Ganesh
You must have heard it all by now – the technological trends for 2012 and the future. The predictions range over big data, cloud computing, internet of things, semantic web, social commerce and so on.
 
This post focuses on what seems to be significant hurdles as we advance to the future. The positive trends are bound to continue and in our exuberance we may lose sight of the hurdles before us. Besides, “problems are usually opportunities in disguise”. So here is my list of the top issues facing the industry now.
 
Bandwidth shortage: A key issue of the computing infrastructure of today is data affinity, which is the result of the dual issues of data latency and the economics of data transfer. Jim Gray's paper on distributed computing economics states that that programs need to be migrated to the data on which they operate rather than transferring large amounts of data to the programs. In this paper Jim Gray tells us that the economics of today’s computing depends on four factors namely computation, networking, database storage and database access. He then equates $1 as follows:
 
≈ 1 GB sent over the WAN
≈ 10 Tops (tera cpu operations)
≈ 8 hours of cpu time
≈ 1 GB disk space
≈ 10 M database accesses
≈ 10 TB of disk bandwidth
≈ 10 TB of LAN bandwidth
 
As can be seen from above breakup, there is a disproportionate contribution by the WAN bandwidth in comparison to the others. In other words, while the processing power of CPUs and the storage capacities have multiplied accompanied by dropping prices, the cost of bandwidth has been high. Moreover the available bandwidth is insufficient to handle the explosion of data traffic.
 
In fact it has been found that the “cheapest and fastest way to move a Terabyte cross country is sneakernet” (the transfer of electronic information, especially computer files, by physically carrying removable media such as magnetic tape, compact discs, DVDs, USB flash drives, or external drives from one computer to another).
 
With the burgeoning of bandwidth hungry applications it is obvious that we are going to face a bandwidth shortage. The industry will have to come with innovative solutions to provide what I would like to refer as “bandwidth-on-demand”.
 

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