The Computer is Becoming the Network Cache

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Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm has a good piece on what Cisco and Qualcomm are doing with caching in their routers. The gist is that as we attach more and more devices to the Internet, the network infrastructure will have to get smarter to keep up. At one point, she paraphrases Sun, saying, “…the router is becoming the computer.”

No argument here. But I’d like to add that another change, just beginning to unfold, to help cope with all the endpoint devices, and all their data demands, might be phrased as, “The computer is becoming the network cache.”

Cloud and mobile have thrown the entire end-to-end Internet infrastructure up in the air, and we are still in the midst of the vast changes taking place. The cloud is where we store everything and do more and more computing. The network used to be just a dumb pipe, then got smarter with the addition of WAN optimization. And endpoint devices keep shrinking and getting more powerful. Finding the optimal place to house the compute and storage functions is one of the foci of every vendor involved in cloud or mobile.

As people rely more and more on their mobile devices, and the ability to access their cloud-based computing, communications and storage from wherever they might be, the imperfections of the networks have become obvious. Wi-Fi networks can really slow down when under heavy load (I’m talking to you, hotel wi-fi!) and cellular networks still have coverage gaps and falter under peak loads.

So, it just makes sense to revisit the issue of where to cache data, and the endpoint is the only place where the user can be guaranteed access to it; network caches need network access, so they aren’t always available.

Once upon a time, it might have been argued that mobile devices didn’t have enough storage to devote some to caching, but that’s not true anymore, so we expect to see every kind of device, from desktops and laptops, to tablets and smartphones, sporting large web caches to support both mobile browsers and mobile apps.

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