Datacenter Trends

Massive Surge in Cloud Datacenter Traffic Coming, Cisco Report Says

Also in the tea leaves: The rapid ascendance of hyperscale datacenters the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Google need to run their massive clouds.

Global cloud datacenter traffic is likely to reach 20.6 zettabytes (ZB) per year by 2021, up from 6.0ZB per year in 2016, say the authors of a newly published report from networking giant Cisco.

The company also expects cloud datacenter traffic to account for 95 percent of all datacenter traffic, globally, by 2021, compared with 88 percent in 2016.

The 65-page, graphically rich report ("Cisco Global Cloud Index 2016-2021") lays out Cisco's analysis of global datacenter and cloud-based traffic growth and trends, and generates the GCI forecast for the next five years. The GCI covers datacenter-to-user traffic, datacenter-to-datacenter traffic, and traffic within the datacenter.

The report is actually a "complementary resource," Cisco says, to its other Internet Protocol (IP) network traffic studies, such as the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI), which covers non-datacenter traffic plus datacenter-to-user traffic. The GCI provides "new insights and visibility into emerging trends affecting datacenters and cloud architectures," the company says. "The forecast becomes increasingly important as the network and data center become more intrinsically linked in offering cloud services."

Both consumer and business applications are fueling the expected three-fold cloud datacenter traffic increase, explained Thomas Barnett Jr., director of Cisco's SP Forecast and Trends group, and one of the authors of the report.

"For consumers, we're talking about streaming video, social networking and Internet search," Barnett told Redmond. "When we looked at business users, it was about ERP, collaboration, analytics and other digital enterprise apps."

The Cisco researchers also expect the traffic surge to fuel demand for large-scale public cloud datacenters known as hyperscale datacenters. They expect to see 628 hyperscale datacenters globally in 2021, compared to 338 in 2016.

Cisco classifies hyperscale datacenters as operations with more than $1 billion in sales in Infrastructure or Platform as a Service (IaaS or PaaS), over $2 billion in sales in Software as a Service (SaaS), over $4 billion in sales in Internet search or social networking, and over $8 billion in sales in e-commerce or payment processing. Think Amazon, Rackspace,, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, eBay and Alibaba.

"This trend is very important, not only because of the growth in the number of hyperscale datacenters, but because of where all the servers are being deployed," Barnett said. "Today, 27 percent of the world's servers are in these hyperscale datacenters; that grows to 53 percent by 2021. Think of it this way: Nearly 70 percent of all datacenter processing power will be in these hyperscale datacenters."

The report breaks down the hyperscale picture even further. According to the report's authors, by 2021 hyperscale datacenters will support:

  • 53 percent of all datacenter servers (27 percent in 2016)
  • 69 percent of all datacenter processing power (41 percent in 2016)
  • 65 percent of all data stored in datacenters (51 percent in 2016)
  • 55 percent of all datacenter traffic (39 percent in 2016)

The growth projected in the study is supported by a combination of security innovations and the benefits of virtualization and optimization, including scalability and economies of scale.

And then there's the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), with its smart cars, smart cities and connected health and digital utilities, all of which require scalable computing and storage solutions to accommodate new and expanding datacenter demands. By 2021, Cisco expects IoT connections to reach 13.7 billion, up from 5.8 billion in 2016.

The list of the GCI's key projections for datacenters generally includes:

  • By 2021, 94 percent of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud datacenters, while 6 percent will be processed by traditional datacenters.
  • Overall datacenter workloads and compute instances will more than double from 2016 to 2021, but cloud workloads and compute instances will nearly triple over the same period.
  • The "workload and compute instance density" for cloud datacenters was 8.8 in 2016 and will grow to 13.2 by 2021. Traditional datacenter workload and compute instance density was 2.4 in 2016 and will grow to 3.8 by 2021.

The report also offered several predictions around the growth of stored data fueled by Big Data and the demands of IoT, including:

  • Globally, the data stored in datacenters will nearly quintuple by 2021 to reach 1.3ZB by 2021, up from 286 exabytes (EB) in 2016.
  • Big Data will represent 30 percent of data stored in datacenters by 2021, up from 18 percent in 2016.
  • The amount of data stored on devices will be 4.5 times higher than data stored in datacenters (5.9ZB) by 2021.
  • Driven primarily by the demands of IoT, the total amount of data created (but not necessarily stored) by any device will reach 847ZB per year by 2021, up from 218ZB per year in 2016.

Finally, applications will contribute significantly to the rise of global datacenter traffic, the report's authors found, with the following results by 2021:

  • Big Data will account for 20 percent of traffic within datacenters (2.5ZB annually, 209EB monthly), compared with 12 percent (593EB annually, 49EB monthly) in 2016.
  • Video streaming will account for 10 percent of traffic within datacenters, compared to 9 percent in 2016.
  • Video will account for 85 percent of traffic from datacenters to end users, compared to 78 percent in 2016.
  • Search will account for 20 percent of traffic within datacenters by 2021, compared to 28 percent in 2016.
  • Social networking will account for 22 percent of traffic within datacenters, compared to 20 percent in 2016.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe on YouTube