The internet is not flat

I've written before about the fact that SaaS companies need to think a lot more about the infrastructure that brings their customers to them. That infrastructure (mainly) being the internet. One of the things that i hadn't thought about but came up in discussions with people about networks is the fairly stunning statement that the internet is not flat. This is stunning because it flies in the face of all my internet experiences, a  point i argued and won.


To the average user of the internet, this statement is not true. The internet you connect too is flat, one pipe (or modem) in, and you see everything on the net. Content goes up and down your pipe and you pay your flat fee or mb usage and away you go. No concept of the tyranny of distance exists except for speed.


But for web properties this is not the case.  When you are a big property (that is have a lot of traffic) the web isn’t flat, in fact its made up of a bunch of geographic hops that funnel traffic to and from you. This traffic (known as backhaul ) costs carriers to move around and because of this they like to charge for it. Typically the calculation is based on the distance the traffic has to move x the amount of traffic. (this ignores international peering ).

Some web properties don’t like to pay for this traffic. The subscribe to the belief that the internet is flat and try to get around it. A couple of results from this, firstly they tend to underspec their connections to their user population and end up delivering really poor user experiences, such as this really frustrating experience from blip TV.

The second is that they go with low cost providers. I can’t speak for the rest of the world but here that means signing up with international carriers who are using marginal pricing to leverage their fixed investment to get to this part of the world OR are using assets already written down when they filed for chapter 11 in the US.  This provides the web property with cheap bandwidth but actually means the user requests are now spanning the world, that is going all the way to the US and back to see a web page owned by a NZ company. End result, slower response times for users or consumption or higher cost international bandwidth which if you follow logical path gets factored into the end users flat fee or mb usage costs.

End result someone pays.

My point of this bog, the web properties need to give more thought to the internet infrastructure that they rely on to do business. They should factor in the end user experience when making their technical and commercial decisions around where to locate their datacentres and how they buy bandwidth. It cost real money to make the internet run and there are no free rides, to me its a classic user pays model. 

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