Information Super-Highway?    I think not.

One of the most common ways to transport data from one computer to another is to write the data onto removable media, physically transport the media to the destination machine, and read the data back in again. Often this is called "sneaker-net".

While this method is not as sophisticated or glamorous as using geosynchronous communication satellites, it is often much more cost effective, especially for applications in which high bandwidth or cost per bit transported is the key factor.

A little background data and a simple calculation will make this point clear:

 
Year 1980: An industry standard 10-inch 9 track 1600dpi tape holds 50mb.  A box with a size of one cubic foot holds 12 of these tapes, yielding a density of 600mb/cuft.
Year 1995: An industry standard CD holds 655mb.  A box one cubic foot would hold approximately 400 disks, yielding a data density of 26.2gb/cuft.
Year 2000: An industry standard 8-mm data tape (e.g., Exabyte) can hold 7 gigabytes. A box one cubic foot in size would hold can hold about 350 of these tapes, for a total capacity of 2,450 gigabytes.
Year 2005: An industry standard DVD holds 4.7gb.  One cubic foot would hold approximately 400 disks, yielding a data density of 1,880gb/cuft.
Year 2005: An industry standard SD flash memory card can hold 1gb.  One cubic foot would hold approximately 16,756 cards, yielding a data density of 16,756 gb/cuft.
Year 2006: An industry standard SD flash memory card can hold 8gb.  One cubic foot would hold approximately 16,756 cards, yielding a data density of 134,048 gb/cuft.
Year 2009: An industry standard microSD flash memory card can hold 16gb.  At only 15mm * 11mm * 1mm, one cubic foot would hold approximately 154,013 cards, yielding a data density of 2,464,212 gb/cuft.
 

A "box of data" could be delivered anywhere in the United States within 24 hours by FedEx or such companies.

The effective bandwidth of this (using Exabyte tapes) "transmission" is 2450 gigabytes/86400 sec or 232 Mbps, which 150 times faster than a standard T1 line  (1.544 mbps) and is about one third of the high-speed version of ATM (622 Mbps).

If the destination is only an hour away by road, the bandwidth is increased to over 5.5 gbps, 3,526 times faster than a T1, 8 times faster than ATM.

If we now look at cost, we get a similar picture. A "box of data" is going to be heavy.  Let's say $200 for shipping, giving us a net cost of about $0.08 cents per gigabyte. At (2005) cable modem prices, uploading data costs around $0.61 per gigabyte.  If the T1 were to cost $1000/month, the cost would be $2.62 per gigabyte


Consider this: A family station wagon has at least 24 cubic feet in the back end.. That'd be 57.4 terabytes. A one hour drive would then 57.4 tb/hour and a cost of perhaps 3 gallons of gas.

The moral of the story is:

Never underestimate the bandwidth
of the family station wagon
hurtling down the highway
with a backend full of computer media.

And why would I ever need so much data?  Click here to read more. 

It is at least interesting to note that a standard vinyl LP record of the '60s had higher effective data density than the magnetic tapes from 1980. You could stack 50 or so albums in a cubic foot.

Stony Smith, circa 1978, updated periodically

pick a media
or or media size
units per cubic foot
bytes or data density
mbps transmission speed
data cost/month
data cost/second
data cost per cubic foot
 

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