Stills Serving from Those Foreign Lands

quite déjà vu; this had happened before. A fellow panelist and a VSNL director
at a panel discussion in mid-May ticked me off for saying that India still had a
bandwidth crunch, with one-fortieth of China’s 20 GB Internet gateway
capacity. There’s no gap, he said, and no unmet demand; apply and you’ll get
bandwidth in a month. Two years ago I was told the same thing by a
fellow-speaker at another event, the then DoT secretary…no bandwidth shortage.

So how come all those Indian server owners aren’t flocking back into India
from Exodus, Data Return, et al in the US?

Well, a few are. Some financial sites, which need local control of their
servers, for instance. But most are not. The reality is in the numbers: Against
the 0.5 Gbps of deployed gateway capacity for India, US-based Indian severs,
including Indian corporate mailservers, gobble up 20 Gbps (our estimates).
Another few Gbps of traffic from India-based servers stays within India.

So why don’t they come back, if it’s cheaper here now? I asked some Web
companies, and they said: it’s not.

  • Bandwidth is still expensive.
    Sure, VSNL rates have really dropped. But enterprises and data centers here
    have to factor in reliability and backup issues, which require multiple
    levels of backup in India. (With a VSNL leased line, our company had a
    person running around full time just to keep the line up. Forget 24×7: if
    the line dropped dead in the evening, tough luck. Private ISPs have turned
    in far better reliability and service scores, though performance issues
    plague them too.

  • Other infrastructure costs also
    add up, notably electricity and the need for multi-level backups.

  • India’s not close enough to the
    Internet backbone. Having a mirror or an India-only site here is one thing,
    but putting your only server in India for a global site is a no-no. (India
    can still make a bid for regional Asia hub–with a hundred-fold increase in
    gateway capacity.)

  • ISPs, data centers and others
    face an uphill task: the challenge of service level agreements. Users
    getting 99.99% today will expect the same here.

Yes, things have changed in the past 12 months, and there’s fiber
everywhere. That has as yet made little impact. But as we approach the threshold
where it may make economic sense to move our Web servers into Indian ISPs and
IDCs, Web users will have to keep up a constant process of evaluation–and take
the plunge soon. And maybe I won’t have to get into the same argument a year
later with another telecom official…if India has enough bandwidth, how come
our servers are all abroad?

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