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Cloud computing traffic to grow fast in coming years, Cisco says

November 29, 2011 |  2:02 pm

Facebook-server

Cisco Systems Inc. sees a cloudy future.

By 2015, cloud computing will account for nearly 34% of traffic at the world's data centers, the huge computing stations that now process and distribute most of the Internet's information. Last year the cloud accounted for only about 11% of data center traffic.

The trend comes as data centers become an ever larger part of the way the Internet works, acting as the digital jet engines for the Internet's most-used services: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple's iCloud and many others. 

Cisco's first "Cloud Index" report says that overall traffic at data centers will more than triple by 2015, to 4.8 zettabytes from about 1.5 zettabytes in 2011. Cisco is one of the world's largest vendors of the networking hardware that sends data around the Internet and between servers in a given data center.

A zettabyte is an astronomical amount of data, equal to 1 billion terabytes. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. Many current PCs contain about 500 gigabytes of storage. So the amount of data that will be processed by the world's data centers by 2015 is roughly what you could fit on 2 billion modern PCs.

None of that may be very surprising, as the benefits of cloud computing -- including the substantially lower cost of storing and retrieving data to consumers and businesses -- have been widely extolled in recent years. Cisco differentiates between "traditional" services and cloud servers; the latter is a more elastic type of computing that can grow or shrink depending on the number of active users or the types of tasks it is performing.

That can make for economic and energy efficiency gains by reducing the number of data center servers that sit idle while, for instance, people in North America are asleep. With cloud systems, those otherwise unused servers can be shifted over to perform needed functions -- often for different companies on other continents.

The rapid movement of data that goes along with cloud computing has raised a number of concerns about online security, including whether consumers and businesses can know precisely where their private data is located and the extent to which cloud data is vulnerable to hackers or accidental disclosure.

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-- David Sarno

Image: An artist's rendering of Facebook's newest data center in Lulea, Sweden, on the edge of the Arctic Circle.  Facebook picked the location because the cold climate allows it to keep its servers cool more cheaply. Credit: Associated Press

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