Sneaker Net

Also called FloppyNet : Sharing files by copying them to floppy disks (or tape, ZIP, UsbKeychainDrive, any removable media) and taking them to the computer where you want the files. Widely used before local networks (and the internet) were commonplace. Certainly most of us don't regret never having to do it again. :-)

One of the sayings from early in that era:

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magtapes.
The first time I heard it was already a 747 full of CD-ROMs

Now there is the perfect example of a high bandwidth, but high latency network. I'll have to remember that the next time someone asks why DirectPC ain't so hot.

First time I head this meme it was about Thailand, where the rats eat cat5 cable for breakfast and the telecomms are terrible. It was called the 'honda protocol' and went like this:

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a kid on a moped with a backpack full of CDs.

Back around the time of the first Freely Redistributable Software Conference, the UK folks complained about the (lack of) speed of the Internet connection they were using to mirror various US free software sites. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and figured that a CD burner in Kennedy airport, and a CD reader in Heathrow would give them better bandwidth.

Life imitates art:

Dai Davies, director of Dante, which provides high-speed networks to Europe's research institutes, said that before now the highest data transfer speed was achieved by putting the tapes in a van and driving them to where they need to be analysed.

Delivery vans can carry lots of tapes at the same time which means that Europe's roads have a relatively high bandwidth. "You can send a few hundred megabytes per second through DHL," he said.

- BBC News, 16 September 2003.

I always heard this as a claim that the highest bandwidth transatlantic data channel was a freighter fully-loaded with punch cards (, for those too young to remember).

SneakerNet is not dead where I work.

Our IT department is paranoid about viruses, and policy is there will be no machine on the corporate net unless it has AV sofware. I do some capacity testing on some software, with a requirement that I be able to measure machines under load without AV software confusing the numbers. Therefore, there can be no copper connection between the machines running the tests and the machines on the corporate net.

SneakerNet is the file transfer protocol in the land of paranoid IT departments.

I have a similar situation - our internal network has no connection to the internet. Which is fine, until I need to deploy my code out to the webservers on our external (internet-connected) network.

SneakerNet is very popular among university students. I can't count the number of times I've had an important document on a school computer that I needed to take home, or that I've written a paper on my home computer that I needed to print at school, or that I've had to give a presentation on a classroom computer. Floppies are usually the easiest means of transportation for this. However, it is being superceeded in some areas by the email-to-yourself method of online storage.

Beware of floppy-format incompatibilities though. We had a presentation in sociology where one person's WinXp? floppy wouldn't work in the Win98 laptop we had hooked up to the projector. Oddly, it worked in my MandrakeLinux laptop, so we just switched computers. -- JonathanTang

Although it is a less common problem today than in the past (possibly just because such things are used much less these days), any magnetic head/moving media system can suffer alignment problems, such that it can easily be read by the same head that wrote it, but becomes a matter of luck when tried on a different device with a read head with different alignment.

This used to be especially notorious with cartridge tapes used for backup e.g. for Sun workstations, but it also happened all the time with floppies on Amigas, PCs, Macs...

In particular, C64 cassette tapes. Man, were you envious of those guys with signal-strength LEDs on their cassette tape players to help adjust the head alignment. We actually had to write on the cover what alignment was needed to read this particular cassette (on this particular player). ..

Please note that this entire page is somewhat dated; not only have storage technologies advanced past the point where "storage bandwidth" is even a consideration any more, but datacomm channels have gotten so cheap, fast, and reliable that entire industries are built around international data transactions occurring continuously throughout the day. SneakerNet is truly dead.

I don't think so. Yes, nobody moves CDs let alone Floppies around any more. But there is no better way to share a DVD collection than bringing over a cheap HD with 1TB of videos to a friend. Not only the cable speeds have improved. So did the storage devices.

[And, of course the above statement also ignores small businesses, where it is often still much easier to move data by foot from office to office/person via floppy/cd/dvd/jump-drive, etc. There is one other issue that will probably keep SneakerNet alive for a long time to come, even in large corporations, and that is the one of "security" i.e.: ForYourEyesOnly. You can't snoop into something on the network, even with keylogers/trojans/boss-ware, when it is not/was not there in the first place...]

One of the more interesting instances of SneakerNet had nothing to do with bandwidth and gave real meaning to the "Sneak" in SneakerNet. In the years before the wall came down, uucp and fido traffic would find its way to nodes in West Germany, be copied onto floppies or tapes and hand-carried across the border to East Germany, where it would continue on, via uucp and fido over ZModem, to points all over the Soviet Union. Over a period of two years I had a running conversation with a fellow in Minsk (sci.crypt hands may know who I mean). Including the East/West SneakerNet, messages took 20-25 hops and about eight days to make the trip. --MarcThibault

ZModem?! Luxury! Recall Xmodem at 300 bps; you could wear out a pair of sneakers (to round out the conversation) pacing while waiting for a file transfer to complete. (I was going to go even lower, but I thought it might be too baud-y.) --ibsteve2u

For what its worth, its late 2013 and I've got a 10TB VMDK I need to get to Germany, I have arrived at this page as part of a brief search for 'how to calculate sneakernet speeds'. Despite our leased lines and London Colo I am certain that writing to disk and shipping will be quicker than FTP... -PatchW

10 TB? on what kind of disk?

Doesn't matter, does it? The original's probably on some kind of RAID or distributed FS; either split the file for transfer (say, eleven parts, slightly smaller than 1TB discs, leaving room for error-correction (or at least detection) information) or construct a second local RAID with the media to be shipped. I'd say the former way was harder for the recipient to screw up.

CategoryJargon JanuaryEleven

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