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Bill St. Arnaud is a consultant and research engineer who works with clients around the world on a variety of subjects such as next generation Internet networks and developing practical solutions to reduce CO2 emissions such as free broadband and dynamic charging of eVehicles. He is an author of many papers and articles on these topics and is a frequent guest speaker. For more details on my research interests see

Thursday, September 15, 2011

R&E networks once again revolutionizing Internet through content peering

[I recently attended the annual GLIF meeting (Global Lambda Integrated Facility) in Rio de Janeiro where there was a lot of buzz and excitement about recent developments in lambda networking and new transformative business models for R&E networks.
The GLIF is the “G20” of the of the most innovative R&E networks around the world and meets annually to explore the future of international R&E networking.

Although a lot of discussion focused on how to use international wavelengths to support big science, the most intriguing developments were hallway discussions I had with various participants on how once again  R&E networks are transforming the global Internet through disruptive innovation.

The biggest transformation in the business model for R&E networks is the staggering success of content peering.  Content peering is where R&E networks exchange traffic, at no cost, with major content providers like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc and peer directly, again at no cost with numerous Tier 2 Internet Service Providers.

Although all R&E networks first objective is to support the advancement of education and research, their bread and butter revenue is helping education institutions significantly reduce their commercial Internet costs by providing content peering services.  Only a few years ago content peering reduced an institutions Internet costs by as much as 40%. Recent data from several R&E networks shows that content peering has now allowed institutions to reduce their commercial Internet costs by as much as 90%!  Universities without content peering may pay several hundred thousand or several million dollars a year in commercial Internet costs. But with content peering they have been able to dramatically reduce these costs through a much smaller membership or network connection fee to the R&E network. This membership fee then cross subsidizes the very important network services required for research and education such as global lambdas etc.   Many R&E networks also don’t “meter” consumption of content peering traffic and instead base membership or network connection fee on the size of the institution or connecting pipe.

Content peering is also a big driver for international lambdas as many R&E networks expend their peering reach or agree to exchange peering routes between themselves.

Content peering has allowed most R&E networks to become operationally self sufficient. Even if you take the fully loaded cost of amortizing routers and fiber demonstrates that Internet services can be delivered significantly less than the carriers are charging today, and clearly show that argument for Usage Based Pricing is a bunch of hooey.

Content peering is going to revolutionize the Internet in a couple of other ways as well.  For example, many universities in North America are shutting down cable TV connectivity to the residences because of the inexorable rising costs.  Instead students are now down loading their TV entertainment over the Internet. At one small institution with only 2500 students in residence this has resulted in a dramatic jump in Internet traffic of almost a Terabyte a day!  Without content peering the university would either have to dramatically throttle this traffic or pay huge bills to their commercial Internet provider.  It is also amusing to see how students have developed sophisticated encryption technologies to avoid detection by the Copyright Gestapo of the RIAA and MPAA.

Some R&E networks except to see the real growth in content peering not to be with universities but with K-12 schools. Many school boards are now looking at tablets like the iPad as a replacement for textbooks and computer desktop initiatives.  The driver for this is surprisingly energy consumption and CO2 emissions.  Many K-12 desktop computer programs failed because the biggest cost was not the computers themselves, but the cost of installing electrical outlets at each desk.  As well many schools have eliminated lockers, for safety reasons, which forces the kids to carry all their textbooks to and from school.  According to recent data  the total life cycle CO2 impact of a tablet is equivalent to approximately 22 books.  Most students easily read over 22 books when you take into account textbooks and books read for pleasure or reading assignments.  Tablets can last virtually all day without charging and when they need charging they can be plugged into charging stations that are powered solely by rooftop solar panels or micro windmills.

As I have long argued, I believe the Internet will essentially be free and unlimited.  This is clearly the trend we are seeing with some of the world’s leading R&E networks.  The largest cost component will be amortization of the infrastructure which will be paid for, not through user fees or bandwidth consumption, but by energy savings and CO2 reduction.  Energy and GHG reduction will also  be a much viable revenue stream for artists and copyright holders as opposed to Medieval practices of try to block content trough DMCA take down notices.  For more details please see  -- BSA]

For more reading please

Big cable is facing an ‘affordability crisis’

A study of Microsoft Office distribution comparing DVD delivery to e-delivery concluded that e-delivery can reduce CO2e up to 88%.
The Energy and Climate Change Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods examines six use cases. "We find that despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40 and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery…"
The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle
 is based on a use case of an e-reader displacing 22.5 purchased books a year, about one every two weeks. The study finds that the negative impact of the e-reader is about the same as one year's positive impact of the e-books. "That indicates that an e-reader device would have no net environmental impact in its first year of ownership for the typical user, but every year of subsequent use would compound its benefits. The same holds true when looking at the total number of e-reader devices sold across the globe. We estimate that the emissions prevented by e-reader devices in 2012 will be more than double the amount of emissions created in the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the devices." The paper notes that the savings from additional e-delivery of magazines and newspapers make the comparison even better.
The use of tablets like Apple's iPad as e-readers likely improves the e-book equation, as the device's footprint is spread over multiple uses, including e-delivery of music and movies.

Green Internet Consultant. Practical solutions to reducing GHG emissions such as free broadband and electric highways.

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