The year 2017 alone will see more traffic traverse the Internet than the entire twenty-eight-year period from 1984 to 2012 did.
That's one of the top line forecasts Cisco made today in its 2013 Visual Networking Index report, which examines the 2012 to 2017 time period. Cisco is pegging 2017 Internet traffic to come in at 1.4 zettabytes; all traffic from 1984-2012 combined only totals 1.2 zettabytes.
While the numbers seem big, the forecast is roughly in line with expectations. Cisco's 2012 VNI report looked at the period from 2011-2016 and forecast 2016 traffic to hit 1.3 exabytes.
Arielle Sumits, principal analyst for the Cisco VNI, explained to Enterprise Networking Planet that the overall global growth is in line with what Cisco expected last year, with a few exceptions. One of the key exceptions involves mobile traffic growth.
"Traffic originating from portable devices is growing faster than anticipated, so that by 2017, 28 percent of Internet traffic will originate with smartphones and tablets," Sumits said. "PC-originated traffic, on the other hand, will account for 61 percent of Internet traffic in 2017, down from 92 percent at the end of 2012."
Back in 2011, Cisco forecast 200 exabytes of traffic growth between 2014 and 2015.
For 2013, Cisco is revising that number to 180 exabytes.
"In the most recent forecast, the amount added between 2014 and 2015 will be 180 EB, between 2015 and 2016 would be 207 EB, between 2016 and 2017 would be 235 EB," Sumit said. "So on average, the amount added each year is about the same as the total amount of IP traffic sent in all of 2010. "
One of the multi-year themes that Cisco's VNI has explored is the impending zettabyte era. A zettabyte is equal to 1000 exabytes, which is one sextillion bytes.
So when does the Internet officially enter the zettabyte era?
"The annual run rate of traffic will reach 1.0 ZB by the end of 2015, and by the end of 2017, the annual run rate will be 1.4 ZB," Sumits said.
One of the key new additions to the 2013 VNI forecast is an estimate for IPv6 traffic. While new, un-assigned IPv4 address space is technically now exhausted, IPv6 traffic is still relatively small. It is growing, however.
"In our most likely scenario, by the end of this year, 3.1 percent of total IP traffic will be IPv6, up from 1.3 percent at the end of 2012," Sumits said. "By the end of 2017, 23.9 percent of IP traffic will be IPv6."
IPv6 traffic will grow more than fiftyfold between the end of 2012 and 2017.
Can Networks Cope?
Given the current forecast, the big question on the table is whether modern networks are capable of scaling properly to enable the projected growth. It's a questions that Cisco expects service providers to be able to answer in the affirmative.
"We believe that service providers have the capability to meet the growing demand, as they implement network intelligence for traffic management, and content distribution technologies to relieve pressure on links with heavy traffic," Sumits said.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.