Evaluating The Growth Of Internet Traffic

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At the opening of NANOG 53, Kevin McElearney of Comcast commented that within Comcast Regional Area Networks (CRANs), the company is regularly pushing 40+ Gbps of traffic out to the global Internet. This is a massive amount of traffic and in many cases, it’s more traffic than entire countries around the world push out to the Internet.

It got me thinking about just how much traffic there is on the Internet and the rate at which that traffic will grow over the coming years.

Around the world, ISPs and networks interconnect with each other at specially designed data centers called Internet Exchange points (IXes). An IX is a large data center with access to multiple fiber optic pathways to the surrounding area, a large layer 2 peering switch (typically Ethernet-based) and a number of ISPs and networks that want to exchange traffic with one another.

One of the world’s most popular Internet exchanges — MAE-East — was located in Virginia and served as the East Coast hub for Internet traffic back in the day. While I was at NANOG, I had drinks with Steve Feldman, who was sharing some stories of his experience working at MAE-East. Steve was commenting on some of the upgrades that were being performed at MAE-East, saying “When we installed the Gigaswitches in the exchange, they had 100 megabit per second (Mbps) FDDI ports. We were significantly future proofing ourselves. This would be plenty of capacity for a very long time.”

So this got me thinking about exactly how much traffic can we anticipate on the Internet in the next 20 years? Knowing that Internet traffic grows at a rate similar to or ahead of Moore’s Law, I assumed that traffic at the East Coast IX was approximately 100 Mbps in 1996 and ran the model out through the year 2030.

Dyn IaaS Internet

Yes, that’s right: macro scale growth of a single 100 Mbps Internet Exchange serving the US East Coast to over 650+ Tbps of traffic alone!

Checking this data indicates that there is approximately 102 Gbps of traffic being exchanged on the US East Coast across the facilities that have replaced the MAE-East exchange. I believe this number to be approximately correct. Given that and the projection of Moore’s Law, this means we can expect to be exchanging traffic volumes of over 650 Tbps in the year 2030.

There are some exchanges around the world today that are pushing over 1 Tbps in traffic and even this amount of traffic pushes the limits of the capabilities of today’s networking hardware. We have quite a bit of work to do if we’re going to be ready to handle 650+ Tbps of peering traffic!

Tom Daly is a co-founder of Dyn, the world leader in Internet Performance Solutions that delivers traffic management, message management, and performance assurance. Follow on Twitter: @TomDalyNH and @Dyn.

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