30 years in, what's next for the Internet?

Believe it or not, it has been 30 years since the dawn of the Internet. Those of a certain age will remember well being excited to go to a work station and send an e-mail to the one or two friends that had the ...

A DIY approach to rural broadband
A DIY approach to rural broadband

Believe it or not, it has been 30 years since the dawn of the Internet. Those of a certain age will remember well being excited to go to a work station and send an e-mail to the one or two friends that had the capability to receive it. In the last three decades, the Internet has evolved from a place to browse for information to a place for consumption of content.

"We didn't know where we were going to end up 30 years hence. We have no idea (of the future). We can talk about the trends we are seeing and given that, what do we expect (in terms of) the roadblocks we will see in the next 30 years," said Loudon Blair, senior director, corporate strategy office, Ciena (NYSE:CIEN).

One of these challenges involves a pretty stalwart law of physics. In the optical realm, there is the Shannon-Hartley theorem, which says there is a maximum amount of information that can be sent over a specific spectrum.

"There are a couple more iterations to go for the technology we can develop, (but) we are starting to come up against a fundamental limit," Blair said.

Internet traffic is doubling every two or three years. The question is what technology is needed to handle that. Blair noted that in the computer industry, the actual CPU of PCs hasn't changed. Rather they have started to compute in parallel as opposed to serial, Blair said.

"There are certain interesting things you can do when you start coming up against walls. When you approach technology limits, it starts to become more expensive to develop the next iteration. The investment required by a company to get to the next phase becomes more substantial," Blair said.

Power is another challenge. At the base of the Internet today is the data center. Historically, computers connected to computers, but now they all communicate with the data center, Blair said.

"These centers are growing (in terms of) the switches, the number supported and the … fabric … that is needed to interconnect all those servers. This is a tremendous burden on the power requirements," Blair said.

The issue becomes how growth can continue under the current model, when at some point getting more power into a building is impossible.

"Change has to happen. The structure of data centers that is currently used to support our demand is going to change. We will start to see that becoming more distributed as people who run (data centers) look for different ways to power," Blair said.

Distributed cloud and edge computing offer things like lower latency, but they also help address the problem of how to double a data center's capacity when you can't get enough electrical power into the building, Blair said.

Security is another theme. In the beginning, the Internet was designed to be free and open, but as more critical infrastructure became involved, there became a need to be secure. "As (the Internet) evolves and adapts for the next iteration, we will find that security is built in and not bolted on from the side," Blair said.

Another dimension is integration. While historically there may have been separate appliances for compute, storage, (etc.) in broad terms, more functions will be integrated into the silicon. "Systems-on-a chip, this will be real," Blair said.

A common theme to the question of where the Internet is going is adaptation, Blair said.

"Networks and the Internet will change again. (We) have to adapt to that," Blair said. "We are barely at the beginning of something. The Internet has changed. I think we are going to gain control of the technology. The change is going so fast, we as humans haven't had a change to take control of what it offers us."

In other words, humans are still walking around with phones, trying to text, and running into cars and tripping into ponds while trying to do it.

"Technology is controlling us," Blair said. "Over the next 10-20 years, we will adapt to what that means. We will take control of it."

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