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June 2007
Volume 10 / Number 6
Inside Networking

The Laws of Networking

By Tony Rybczynski, Inside Networking

Gilder's Law, Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law and Edholm's Law, all provide a view of significant technology relationships. Taken together, they provide us valuable insights into how networking is changing. Could we be at the beginning of a major transformation in networking, paralleling an equally profound change in telecom, whereby telephony becomes a software application within a Unified Communications application environment?


Law School

Moore's Law, from the founders of Intel, states that the number of transistors that can be put on a chip doubles every 18 months. This law just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and is still remarkably resilient. The results are visible everywhere.

George Gilder, the author of Telecosm, observed that bandwidth grows at least three times faster than computer power. Whereas computer power doubles every 18 months, communications power doubles every six months, and opens the door for using bandwidth to gain bandwidth.

Metcalfe's Law says the usefulness or utility of a network equals the square of the number of users. Bob Metcalfe, as the inventor of Ethernet, recognized that the value of getting people and devices interconnected by Ethernet increased as the number of users increased. When Ethernet segments started to be interconnected by routers, Metcalfe's Law was extended to apply to routed networks and to the Internet at large.

Edholm's Law was first referenced in an IEEE publication based on an interview with Phil Edholm, enterprise CTO in Nortel, in which he described three kinds of bandwidth: fixed wired bandwidth, nomadic bandwidth as you move from home office to hot spot to hotel, and wireless bandwidth over the public network. Edholm's Law states that, over time, these three types of bandwidths grow at about the same exponential rate, though the absolute bandwidth is lower for nomadic and wireless connections respectively.


Following the Law

One implication of Moore's Law is that abundant processing has created an environment in which applications are re-invented through Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) frameworks to enable greater business effectiveness and agility. It also creates on-going opportunities to add intelligence to networks to improve network and application performance, protect critical resources and simplify operation.

One implication of Gilder's Law is that using Ethernet and optical networking can accelerate the centralization of storage and servers to simplify IT environments.

With virtually every knowledge and information worker having network connectivity, have we reached a peak in value delivered as dictated by Metcalfe's Law? Resoundingly no! The network's value continues to grow with connectivity being provided to a range of sensors and actuators across the enterprise, making networks orders of magnitude larger than enterprises in terms of employees!

Given that there is a limited bandwidth (approximately 60Mbps) that can be absorbed by the human brain, one key implication of Edholm's Law is that, as wireless access approaches the capacity of humans to absorb information, wireless will become increasingly equivalent to wired access. Another is that this broadband wireless in the form of WiFi, WiMAX and 4G, will be widely available across both the enterprise and the country.


Is Networking Going Non-Linear?

The early 1990s were characterized by a drive for increased connectivity over a variety of network technologies and a variety of application and protocol stacks. As we headed towards the new millennium, we entered a network build-out phase enabled through standardization on IP and Ethernet - the focus was on bigger, faster and denser. Since 2000 we've seen significant linear innovation focusing on increased network intelligence, mobility, and layered defense.

Today, the Laws of Networking, the convergence of the IT and telecom industries and business needs are coming together to change how we view networks. Could we be entering a new era in networking, creating a discontinuity in how we architect, build and operate networks? Looking into our crystal ball, we can see four major implications:

  1. Pervasive broadband: Ethernet to the desktop and to the MAN/WAN, and broadband wireless almost everywhere.
  2. Borderless application-aware networks: federated networking with optimally placed intelligence, delivering consistent user quality of experience across enterprise and carrier domains.
  3. Hyperconnectivity: networked everything, delivering new value to business applications for increased business effectiveness.
  4. Always-on low latency autonomic networking: dynamically adjusting to changing network topologies, security threats, application needs and traffic levels, to maximize utilization of the IT infrastructure and optimize application performance in line with corporate policies.
  5. These will provide an IT infrastructure delivering ubiquitous Unified Communications anytime, anywhere over any device; communications- enabled business processes and SOA-enabled applications, and business continuity across applications and storage.

Opportunity Knocks

Just as the laws of physics help us understand Nature, the Laws of Networking can provide us with insights into how networking will change, and can challenge us in terms of our IT investment strategies. Could we be entering a new era in networking, creating a discontinuity in how we architect, build and operate networks? Maybe. In either case, the CIO's challenge remains: how to best align IT investments with the business?

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies at Nortel. (quote - news - alert) He has over 20 years experience in the application of packet network technology. For more information, please visit


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