The Zettabyte Era is Upon Us

May 31, 2012 - 0 Comments

As many of the regular readers know, this time of year is one of my favorite.  Sure, kids are out of school, the weather is nice, and that summer vacation is within reach… but the real kicker?  The release of the annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast – this time for the period between 2011 and 2016.

We’ve been doing this report for 6 years now, and it has provided a lens into many of the changes we’ve seen in the industry, and there are many:

  • Changes the units of measurement just to quantify the amount of traffic – moving from petabytes to exabytes to now – for the first time ever – zettabytes
  • Changes in the types of devices that are driving traffic – from primarily PCs to now smartphones, tablets, TVs and the Internet of Things
  • Changes in the services and applications we’re using those devices for – from primarily data-centric to ones that are far more experience-centric.

Throughout all of those changes, however, we have had a constant – and that is the seemingly endless appetite we have for bandwidth and the incredible opportunities the network provides for societies, businesses, service providers, and consumers like you and me.

This year, the Cisco VNI forecasts that traffic from 2011-2016 will grow four-fold to reach 1.3 Zettabytes by 2016.  A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes (10 to the 21st power in bytes = a lot).  To put that in perspective, all the IP traffic that has hit the global networks in the Internet years to date (1984-2012) has generated 1.2 Zettabytes in total.  By 2016, our forecast has us generating more than that each year.  Simply staggering numbers.

And the growth year to year is quite steep as well.  Last year, we estimated traffic in 2015 would be 966 exabytes – the difference between that and our 2016 forecast is 350 exabytes – or nearly the entire amount generated on the network in 2011.  And to think that that amount is being added incrementally to the network each year is both amazing and daunting (all the more reason why we should never underestimate the complexity that service providers deal with each and every day).

These numbers may seem steep, but when we go back and compare our past forecasts to actual traffic figures in a given year, they end up being anywhere from 2-10% on the conservative side – in fact in 2011, we ended up underestimating traffic by 10.7%, so if history is a guide, the actual amount of traffic in 2016 will be greater than 1.3 Zettabytes.

Drivers for this are multi-fold:

  • More Devices
  • More Users
  • Faster Broadband Speed
  • More Video

I’ll go into each of these in future posts, and in the interim, encourage you to learn more by watching our webcast from yesterday or exploring our website at If you have time, read what Dr. Robert Pepper has to say about the implications of the forecasted trends on government policies.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

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