Physical underpinnings of the Internet

Posted on January 9, 2016  /  1 Comments

We at LIRNEasia have always emphasized the significance of the physical infrastructure that makes the Internet possible. That is possibly because we work in parts of the world where the infrastructure is still being built up. Our long engagement with ESCAP on the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) is testimony to this. It is in this context that this piece about the data centers that support much of the “cloud” caught my attention.

This led to an outcropping of office parks that housed not only defense contractors, but also government IT and time-sharing services and, later, companies like MCI, AOL, and UUNet. Thanks to that concentration of network companies and a whole lot of support from the National Science Foundation, Tysons Corner became home to MAE-East, one of the earliest Internet exchanges and home to the foundation of what would become that Internet backbone. Networks build atop networks, and the presence of this backbone in Tysons Corner led to more backbone, more tech companies, and more data centers. Today, up to 70 percent of Internet traffic worldwide travels through this region, as the Loudon county economic-development board cheerfully notes in its marketing materials.

I seriously doubt the claim that 70 percent of all the world’s Internet traffic runs through Northern Virginia. Hope someone will provide the correct, and lower, figure with a reliable source.

1 Comment

  1. This looks like a 1997 number.

    We may not have the exact number, but we can start to deconstruct this number to some extent. The three most significant sources of data on an ISPs network today are:

    1. Google (Youtube and other properties)
    2. Akamai (they do Facebook’s CDN too)
    3. Netflix (at least in the rich countries, but they count a bit more, sorry)

    And this ignores China for obvious reasons. All three of them are heavily making use of local IXPs and caches to bring their content as close as they can to the local user. Word is that Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are now moving to their own CDNs and this is visible for example with Apple hiring some really good peering people.

    There are some divergent claims and it depends on where you live, but Youtube is up to 30% of peak traffic in some countries. Netflix is said to have a similar proportion of peak traffic. Ive heard Akamai say they are not necessarily smaller then Google in traffic. Sandvine gives some numbers too and they say that in developing nations Facebook properties (whatsapp, instagram and facebook) generate as much as 25% of traffic. And this is just peak traffic. Total traffic is spread out during the day.

    Nobody who runs a large scale network and is in a sound mind runs all traffic through the USA. Indeed, if you live your country’s traffic is primarily going through the USA, then it is probably the result of the policies of your country. If there would be a competitive market with a good local IXP then traffic would stay local. With Google and Akamai present in several sub-Saharan African nations that is a clear sign that given the right conditions these companies don’t mind sending a few boxes over. They are not in the business of giving their customers a bad experience and running traffic through Tyson’s Corner is just bad business