Is There an End in Sight to Escalating Bandwidth Demand?

DC1.jpgAs a network engineer at Intel, I want to share the trends we’re experiencing within Intel and also want to learn what others are seeing in their environment.  I’m a lead engineer who has worked with Intel’s network for the last 14 years.  I’ve seen multiple transformations—from an external hosting phase in late 90s to a distributed data center model in the early 2000s. In the last 5 years, we have achieved significant data center consolidation. I have been involved in the design, implementation, and operation of these changes.

Here at Intel’s data centers, we’ve experienced a 30 to 40 percent growth in network bandwidth demand, year over year (YoY), for the last 3 years. To keep up with this demand, we’ve upgraded our data center network fabric every 4 to 5 years.

Several factors have driven this trend. In an effort to run our data centers as efficiently as possible, in terms of energy consumption, space utilization, and operational cost, we have reduced the total square footage of our data centers by 24 percent since 2003. In this same time period, we’ve also consolidated the number of sites from 152 to 64. While this is a good thing, it means that all Intel’s applications and workloads across the globe are consolidated into fewer data centers—raising the bandwidth demand at each of them.

Other trends are also leading to heavier bandwidth demand per server. Our appetite for creating content is driving storage growth (35% YoY), which indirectly puts demand on the network. And compute systems are getting more powerful every year—what used to take 10 servers to accomplish a task now takes only 1.

Trends outside the data center are also contributing to increased bandwidth demand. For example, people don’t just consume content 9 to 5 these days. Instead, an increasing number of devices per person and the explosion in mobility have resulted in 24/7/365 content consumption, increasing network traffic.

DC2.jpgPeople don’t just want content 24/7, they expect it NOW—instantaneously. Therefore, we are increasingly pushing content to devices rather than waiting for users to pull content. This approach, combined with increasing use of richer content types such as video and audio, again leads to growth in bandwidth demand.

We feel that these shifts point to a continued steady increase in the need for higher-speed enterprise networks. It took us 4 to 5 years to transition from 1 GbE to 10 GbE; we expect to upgrade to multiple GbE (40/100) even faster, as soon as 2015.

At a personal level, it is very interesting and challenging as we grow through these changes to improve the efficiency for Intel’s business. (It is sort of like rebuilding the house every 5 years and moving into it without anybody noticing.) I’d like to hear what are other enterprises seeing and doing about bandwidth demand—do you think, as we do, that 10 TbE will be installed in enterprise data centers by 2020?

- Sanjay Rungta