iCloud and The Death of the Asynchronous Network Model

Something else to blame on the over-the-top service providers (yes, those guys who actually make money from comms). New Cloud services are breaking the content-consumption model that ADSL, and network planning in general, is predicated on.

iCloud is not the first Cloud service to be sold to consumers. But, like so many things from Apple, it may well be the first to be adopted en masse, changing the way a large number of broadband subscribers use their bandwidth.

Various flavours of ADSL exist, supplying different levels of bandwidths to users. What they have in common is that they are asynchronous (The A in ADSL) providing significantly more download bandwidth to the customer compared with upload bandwidth to the Internet. This ratio can be quite large; a modern ADSL service from my UK-based supplier is 40Mbs down, 2Mbs up.

That’s great when you spend most of your time browsing the web or downloading video-on-demand. Until recently, uploading data was pretty rare; Just a few Word docs attached to emails or a few dozen photos uploaded to Flickr.

Cloud services, particularly back-up or file-sharing services like iCloud or Dropbox, make much greater demands on the upload bandwidth. The moment someone buys iCloud or Dropbox a heck of a lot of files need to be upload to ‘the Cloud’ for storage/back-up/sharing. All those MP3s, home-made videos, big PowerPoint slides… ADSL isn’t great at offering the customer good upload speeds, which may be something of a disappointment. More critically to the telco, their entire model for understanding customer bandwidth demand and their resultant network architecture breaks.

The network has been architected around ADSL. Recent investment in new architectures, like CDN, are aimed at alleviating performance and capacity issues for the old data-consumption usage pattern.

When iCloud takes off, pretty much every file, of every customer, will need to be uploaded to The Cloud. If 20% of your customers buy iCloud at the same time, thanks to an Apple marketing push, would your network be ready? Do you meter or charge for upload traffic? Do you have a service plan for consumers who sync a lot of data?

Remember how much of a hassle illegal peer-to-peer file sharing was for telcos a few years back? iCloud is about to legitimise comparable file-transfer traffic loads, with none of the efficiencies inherent in P2P, promoted by millions of marketing dollars…