When you need to transfer data from one place to another, you almost certainly do it via the Internet. It’s remarkable how quickly we’ve gotten used to doing everything that way – ten years ago, the Net was still fairly new, broadband was still a luxury, and it wasn’t practical to send more than a few megabytes at a time. Now we have cloud storage and high-speed connections, and we think nothing of sharing hundreds of megabytes of data or downloading gigabytes at a time.
But sometimes, it’s still quicker to use old-school methods. For example, if you’re copying a few hundred megabytes of music from one computer to another, it can take a long time over a typical wireless connection, especially if there are several other people using the network at the same time. Try copying your data to a USB stick or burning it to a DVD, and then physically taking it to the other machine. It’s what network administrators used to call “SneakerNet” – when walking across the room was often quicker than sending data down the wire.
For longer distances, where walking isn’t practical, mailing disks may be a valid alternative. When Google wanted to transfer several hundred terabytes of data from the Hubble Telescope, they copied everything onto hard disks and sent them via FedEx – the data transfer took just one day to complete, was completely reliable and secure, and less expensive than using the amount of bandwidth it would have taken to send it electronically. On a standard commercial 100 megabit Net connection, it would have taken nearly four months to send everything via the Net.
A really good home or office connection can handle a maximum of 45Gb per hour under ideal conditions. In practice, you may get as little as 1Gb, and if you’re sharing with family members or coworkers, or trying to connect to a server with a poor connection at the other end, you may not even get that. And if the connection keeps dropping, it gets very frustrating, very quickly. When you need to send several gigabytes, it may be far quicker and easier to burn a DVD (or several) and send everything by mail.
The Net is a wonderful thing, but sometimes the old ways are more efficient!