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Not all internets are created equal

03 Dec 2020
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Andy Linham

Strategy Manager for Fixed Connectivity, Vodafone Business

The Internet is everywhere now, there’s no escaping it. But do you really know how information gets sent around the world? If you don’t, you might not be buying the right internet connectivity for your business. Let me explain…

I like to think of the structure of the Internet as a molecule. If you take a look at the image below, you can see what I’m talking about.



A molecule is made up of a group of two or more atoms that are connected with links called bonds. In our internet analogy, the atoms are what we call Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These are companies that provide internet connectivity to customers.

The ISPs sign up to a list of rules and regulations, including some you may have heard of like ‘net neutrality’ that ensures all internet users are treated fairly, and connect their part of the Internet to other ISPs.

Peer to peer

The ‘bonds’ between the atoms mean traffic can cross between internet service providers; we call this ‘peering’.

Peering is a hugely important concept to understand. It is the reason the Internet works. It means that I can buy an internet link from one ISP and send information to a business down the road who bought a service from a different ISP.

To put this into context, there are 2,300 ISP’s in Europe alone, meaning that the ability to send information between them is crucial.

The strength of the peering is directly comparable to the strength of the bonds between the atoms. The stronger the bond, the more information can flow and at higher speeds, with less errors. This strength can be measured in the size, number and geographic resilience of the connections.

You need peering that has enough capacity to support all the customers that are using it.

You also need to make sure that you have enough resilience in the design to keep everyone happy if one or two of the links stop working. If your bonds aren’t strong enough, or link to the wrong places, the information you’re trying to send won’t be delivered and you’ll have some unhappy users.

Where does Cloud fit in?

For years, this was how the Internet worked and it worked very well.

More recently, and we’re talking about the last ten to fifteen years, things have changed. The change came in the form of cloud computing. Companies like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google have enabled businesses to move their data out of costly private data centres, and into shared facilities that are a lot more scalable and cost effective.

Most connections in to these cloud services use the Internet. This is particularly true for services we refer to as Software-as-a-Service. In this case, you are taking an off-the-shelf application from a cloud provider and integrating it with your organisation. These cloud platforms have led to the Internet becoming one of the most important networks for businesses.

This is great for customers because the Internet is widely available, can be delivered at  low-cost, is global and has elastic scalability. The problem is that you can’t get the same levels of performance on the Internet that you can with a private network.

If you think back to our molecule example above, you can get an idea of the problem. You might have to navigate between three of four ISPs to get to your destination. You will only have a contract with the provider who delivers the wire to your site; to the others, you are an anonymous source using up their valuable capacity.

It’s a bit like having to send a package through three or four different delivery companies – any one of them could lose it or hang on to it for a few days while they wait for some free space on a truck or a plane.

The upshot of this is that peering has become the metric by which you should measure an ISP in a cloud-centric world.

To give you an idea of the scale, Vodafone’s Internet network has almost 500 peering relationships defined. A lot of this peering capacity is straight into the biggest cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. This means that we can carry your traffic all the way from your device to the cloud and back again without having to pass it off to another provider.

The benefit? An improved performance of your cloud services and any issues you have with the connectivity can be sorted out much faster.

It’s easy to see how the Internet is only as strong as the bonds between the ISPs and the cloud providers.

A network you can trust

Direct peering with the cloud providers is one of the reasons why the Internet can now be considered a business network.

All of a sudden, you can trust the performance of the Internet; you can rely on it to carry your business critical traffic to the cloud providers; you can embrace ‘overlay’ technologies such as SD-WAN that knit internet and private networks together in a seamless fashion.

So, next time you’re talking to a provider about the Internet, ask them about their peering relationships. If they don’t have a credible answer, it could be a good time to consider switching to someone who does…

Learn more about the different types of business networks and find the one that’s right for you. Whether that's a network that's always on, or something more traditional.

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