Office 365's potential fatal flaw: Not enough Internet bandwidth

It;s not just Office 365's problem though. Google Docs, the Chromebook, and everything else that relies on the cloud have the same problem: Not enough affordable Internet bandwidth.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I've played with Office 365. I'm not impressed. Office 365's pricing and requirements schemes are a nightmare. I can''t see myself--or anyone else--moving to Office 365 if they've already tried Google Docs. But, that said, that's not Office 365's real problem. No, Office 365 shares with Google Docs, the Chromebook, and all other cloud-based applications and devices, the problem that there's not enough bandwidth to go around.

If you've been around Internet technology circles for a while, you've heard this song before. As best I recall it dates back to 1995. Then, Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, predicted that consumer demand for Internet bandwidth would exceed the available network capacity. When these "exafloods" of data demands happened they would cause "giga-lapses." These Internet "brownouts" or even complete service interruptions would leave users unable to use the Internet.

Well, as we all know, Bob was wrong. Since then though a year doesn't goe by without someone proclaiming the End of the Internet. Short of the collapse of civilization, that's not going to happen. But, I do think we might start seeing Internet brownouts. The rise of Internet video services, especially Netflix, means that video alone now takes up 40% of all available Internet bandwidth. That number is only going to keep going up.

I have no scientific proof that the videos services are starving the Internet at times. All I know is that I'm seeing a lot more pauses from both Netflix and Hulu Plus videos during evening prime time hours than I did six months ago. Since I have a 25Mbps (Megabits per second) cable connection, I know those delays aren't coming from between my network and the Internet.

That's annoying when I'm watching a movie. But, it's far more trouble if I were relying on Office 365, or any other cloud-based application, to get work done and I'm unable to get it done.

Up to 2010, the Internet infrastructure was able to keep up with demand. Indeed, according to In-Stat downstream speeds increased an average of 34% in 2010, As Mike Paxton, Principal Analyst said, "This response indicates that so far, broadband service providers are managing to stay ahead of the consumer demand curve for bandwidth."

To be precise, the average download speed for the broadband subscribers in 2010 was 9.54 Mbps (Megabits per second), up from 7.12 Mbps just twelve months earlier, while the average price for broadband service increased by just 4%.

So what about my concerns? They're still there. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been able to increase bandwidth without raising costs significantly because they've been imposing bandwidth caps.

ISPs, such as Comcast, Charter, and Cox, already have bandwidth caps ranging from 20 to 250GBs (GigaBytes). The rest will add them soon.

Now, 250GBs may sound like a lot and it is a lot. It's 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email); 62,500 songs downloads (at 4 MB/song) or 125 standard-definition (SD) movies (at 2 GB/movie). But, once you start watching HD video and constantly working on the net all that bandwidth usage really starts to add up.

As networking expert and writer Glenn Fleishman recently wrote, "more than half of U.S. home broadband subscribers now have some kind of cap. Some firms, like AT&T, charge for usage above a set amount, like 100 GB or 250 GB per month; others, like Comcast, with its 250 GB monthly limit, give you a warning the first time you exceed your limit, and then cancel your service if you get a second warning within a year."

Wouldn't that be just wonderful! Locked out of your local high-speed ISP for a year because you spent too much time working on Office 365 and watching The Office reruns.

So, sure for right now, we're OK. But, if we go all-in on Office 365 and other Software as a Service (SaaS) and clouds apps, we're asking for trouble. Then, we won't be just putting all our video entertainment eggs into the Internet basket; we'll be putting our work into it as well.

I don't know about you, but that makes me nervous. Really nervous.

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