Monday, March 30, 2009

Nework investments

Just a short notice this time.  From time to time i hear an argument that can be roughly paraphrased like this:
Building broadband  network infrastructure is expensive, and unless infrastructure owners have some way of getting their investment back, the growth of the internet will soon stop, so we had better find some way of letting the infrastructure builders get more money or we'll all suffer in dialup hell.
... or some version thereof.  I won't argue directly against the fact that network hardware is expensive, because it is.   However I do want to challenge the definition of who the "infrastructure owners" are, and through that the conclusion that investment in network infrastructure is doomed to halt. The reasoning goes something like this:

  • The first premise is that network infrastructure is no longer limited to routers and wires.  P2p networks and other types of overlay networks are becoming an increasingly important part of the net's future.  
  • In addition to, and in part also as a substitute for wires and routers, the overlay networks use storage and processing in their infrastructure.  A big local disk can make the need for a fat pipe less pressing. Not only that, but a big disk in the neigbourhood makes the  need for a fat pipe out of the neigbourhood less pressing. 
  • This means that not only will investments in p2p hardware make an individual's service better, it will also make the community and internet as  a whole's service better.  
  • Add to this that storage is dropping in cost quicker than  wires (and to some extent routers), we see that there is an increasing incentive for end users to invest in cooperative overlay networks.
The conclusion of this line of reasoning is that the network will continue to evolve. Investment will shift gradually (but probably never completely) from wires and routers purchased as a service from an internet service provider, to processing and storage infrastructure owned and operated by end users, and used by users local (by some network distance metric)  to each other.

I just needed to write that down, because I believe it is important ;)