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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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June 4, 2007 5:17 PM

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Exaflood

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an editorial about the exaflood by Bruce Mehlman and Larry Irving, former presidential advisors on Internet-related issues and current co-chairmen of the Internet Innovation Alliance.

In it, they define the exaflood in the following terms:

“Yet as new content proliferates, today's high-speed connection could be tomorrow's traffic jam. The strain on broadband capabilities and the looming data deluge is often called the Internet exaflood. "Exaflood" stems from the term exabyte, or 1.074 billion gigabytes. Two exabytes equal the total volume of information generated in 1999. The Internet currently handles one exabyte of data every hour. This mushrooming amalgamation of data is pushing the Internet to its limits.”

Now, I have to admit, when I first heard the term “exaflood” a few months back, I hated it. The absolute last thing I’d ever want the explosive growth of the Internet be compared to is a natural disaster. To me, it seemed too threatening, adding a foreboding “or else” to the larger debate around the need for continuing investment in broadband infrastructure.

Yet over the last few weeks, through discussions with colleagues and reading this editorial, my views have begun to shift about the term and what it can mean.

While “exaflood” is often used in conjunction with images of a congested Internet, unable to handle the growing traffic of information, flood analogies can also have a positive spin: a flood of praise, a flood of new customers, and so on.

A common thread between these two definitions is the sense of being overwhelmed.

Of course, being overwhelmed is rarely a good thing, even if whatever’s driving the flood is. For example, imagine I start making the coolest T-shirts in the world from my garage. Someone somewhere picks up on what I’m doing and starts promoting it on a popular website or a TV show.

All of a sudden, I’m flooded with more orders than I can fill. Customers calling in are greeted with busy signals. My email server overloads and online orders begin bouncing back to people. What should be one of the greatest days in my life has been negated by getting too much of a good thing.

Could much of this consternation have been avoided? Absolutely. I should’ve already had a manufacturing partner in place to help production keep up with demand. I probably needed to hire more people to answer phones. And I could’ve acquired more email capacity to keep from getting overloaded.

All this brings up another aspect of the flood analogy: in most instances, as long as you’re properly prepared, floods don’t have to result in disasters.

But also like a flood, we can’t properly prepare for it by focusing only on individual issues. We need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the big picture otherwise we leave ourselves open to spending too much time focused on fortifying some areas while neglecting the leaks in others.

So with all this in mind, I’ve come to view the “exaflood” not so much as a threat but instead as a rallying cry meant to inspire us to further educate ourselves about how the business and technology of the Internet works so that when opportunities arise for the government to play a positive role in encouraging the continued growth and maturation of the Internet it can do so to the best of its ability.


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