Data Upload Faster than a Speeding Pigeon

It takes 2 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds to transfer and upload data over a distance of 80km via pigeon – and no, that isn’t a typo. In 2009, Unlimited IT in South Africa strapped a data card to Winston the carrier pigeon’s leg and sent him on his way to their Durban office in a race against data uploaded at the same time via the local internet service provider. By the time Winston’s special delivery had arrived and been downloaded, only 4% of the same data had been successfully transferred over the internet connection.

Sure, internet speeds and connectivity in South Africa may be significantly behind what we are used to here in Australia. However, Winston might still beat your data upload if transfering TBs of data, even post NBN.

Don’t worry – Ninefold isn’t announcing a carrier pigeon service. We don’t have the roof space. But when thinking about the transfer of large amounts of data (e.g. terabytes), it may be more practical to get those envelopes out and use the internet to find a courier to deliver your devices to us instead.

Let’s compare something more practical at the centre of many overnight courier services – a Boeing 747-400. Theoretically, if you packed it full of 3TB hard drives and flew it from LAX to JFK (flight time 15,254 seconds) it would transfer 98 Terabits per second.

Again… Ninefold isn’t about to move into the airfreight business. But I merely bring up pigeons and jumbo jets to illustrate that data transfer needn’t remain a hurdle for those businesses looking to adopt cloud storage. Storing your data in the cloud makes a lot of sense on so many levels: accessible from anywhere, massively scalable, no upfront investment, pay for what you use, secure data centre location, etc. But if you already have a large volume of data, how do you get it into the cloud in the first place?

There are plenty of tools available for mirroring and synchronising data, or uploading files into the cloud. These are great because not a whole lot of data may change on a day by day basis. Where they struggle (from an efficiency perspective) is the initial upload of ‘big’ data.

Depending on your office or home internet connection speed, it could take days, if not weeks, to transfer a terabyte of data into the cloud. If you check out the many online bandwidth calculators on the web, they show that it will take anywhere from 6 days (10Mbps link) to 60 days (1.5Mbps link) to transfer a TB of data (assuming the maximum throughput rate). And this doesn’t take into consideration factors such as latency and/or other items consuming your bandwidth at the same time. Plus there’s the impact that committing your upload capacity to getting your data into the cloud can have on your other online business activities.

Sneakernet is the common term for the transfer of data by courier and other traditional methods, instead of relying on an internet last mile connection that – let’s be realistic – still struggles with unfeasibly large data volume transactions.

And yes, this is what Ninefold has just announced. A bit more practical than building pigeon coops or adding a runway to our offices.  Now you can just send us your hard drives and we’ll pump the data straight into the cloud. No bandwidth hogging, far less hassle, and everything ready to use within 3-5 days. Oh, and we’ll even send you your hard drives back cause that’s the kind of chaps we are.

Officially, the service is called Sneakernet. Personally I’m calling it Winston, after a certain pigeon that proved a point.

Written for Ninefold on 22/09/2011 :


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