Let Internet be resource conscious

This is a grim warning that unlimited expansion of the Internet capacity cannot be taken for granted.

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Published: Sun 31 May 2015, 9:38 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:50 PM

All good things should end someday. The same could hold true for the growth of the Internet too. Given the exponential explosion of traffic on the World Wide Web, there will come a day when the fiber optic cables will have reached their limit and cannot take data any more.

This apocalyptic possibility was the theme of a conference organised by the Royal Society in London recently. Professor Andrew Ellis of Aston University, Birmingham, who was one of the architects of the conference, says the World Wide Web could reach a capacity crunch in just eight years with fiber optic cables reaching their full capacity. Professor Ellis says: “We are starting to reach the point in the research lab where we can’t get any more data into a single optical fiber.” This is a grim warning that unlimited expansion of the Internet capacity cannot be taken for granted.

The conference also heard that the Internet is also a power intensive activity with a total eight per cent of the total energy produced by Britain being used by it. The energy footprint of data transfer, storage and other related activities is doubling every four years. In about 15 years, Internet alone will use the entire power produced by Britain today. This calls for extraordinary expansion of existing power capacities requiring huge amounts of investments resulting in cost increases for end-users and damaging carbon emissions.

Given the situation, the experts are now turning focus on conservation. One way could be to reduce Internet-driven activity wherever possible. Video streaming takes a big toll on Net traffic. People are increasingly turning to Internet TV, replacing the existing satellite and cable television. This can be curbed to some extent by giving incentives to the traditional satellite TV networks. These days, people are turning to Internet voice calls, giving a go-by to the costly circuit-based telephony. The tariffs on old-style phone calls should be drastically reduced so that they become attractive to cost-conscious consumer.

The intra-office communications can be routed through the local servers. We see a trend in offices where communications between colleagues sitting in the adjacent cubicles happen through a remote server. This imposes a needless burden on the cables and clogs traffic. Most of the routine activities in offices these days are linked to Internet. The moment the Net goes off, the whole office comes to a standstill. Insulating at least some activities from the vagaries of the World Wide Web can prevent this type of breakdowns. Programs, applications and data can be stored on local servers so that offices can do some minimum functions independent of the Internet.

Cloud computing is a raging trend now. This is based on the presumption that Internet capacity is unlimited and everything you want can be accessed any time you want from any location. All the data you need, all the work you do and all the applications you work on are stored on some remote server. Every keyboard stroke on your workstation is transmitted across the cables to a remote server imposing a huge burden on Internet lines. Localised storage of data and software applications can to some extent help ease burden on the cables.

Conservation is the mantra when it comes to fossil fuels, water, minerals and other natural resources. Why should the Internet be an exception? We should optimally use the existing capacities before going for costly and energy-intensive expansions.

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