Sneakernet: The High Bandwidth Wireless

Sneakernet: The High Bandwidth Wireless

“Never underestimate the bandwith of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway”-Andrew S. Tanenbaum.

We’ve got a really fast connection at work, but I still occasionally run into situations where it’s faster, and often more economical, to overnight data on an external hard disk instead of transfering it over the wire. Even within the office, if I’m moving a large file from one machine to another, I’ve found that good ‘ol sneakernet can save me a lot of time, especially when other people are using the network.

Jeff Atwood posted a great article on the economics of bandwidth the other day. He puts some current cost figures towards Jim Gray’s 2003 ACM interview, in which Jim describes the efficiencies of packing and shipping a whole computer instead of copying a terabyte of data over the net:

It’s cheaper to send the machine. The phone bill, at the rate Microsoft pays, is about $1 per gigabyte sent and about $1 per gigabyte received—about $2,000 per terabyte. It’s the same hassle for me whether I send it via the Internet or an overnight package with a computer. I have to copy the files to a server in any case. The extra step is putting the SneakerNet in a cardboard box and slapping a UPS label on it. I have gotten fairly good at that. Tape media is about $3,000 a terabyte. This media, in packaged SneakerNet form, is about $1,500 a terabyte.

According to Jeff’s calculations, the effective sneakernet transfer rate for a terabyte of data is about 9.1 MBps at $0.06/GB. Only an OC-3 would be faster, which costs roughly $0.15/GB for both the sending and receiving end. Want to send 2 terabytes of data? Factoring in the extra time to copy to and from the disk, it works out to about 14.6 MBps at about the same cost per GB. Sneakernet scales.


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