Defining 'reachability' on the global Internet

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You may be reaching your customers, but can they reach you?

We all remember the Verizon Wireless commercials that asked “Can you hear me now?” over and over again from different locations around the world. While the ad campaign may have been repetitive, Verizon was driving home the point that its network had broad wireless network reachability.

While they were effective in winning customers, the message of coverage and signal strength only only told part of the story. Your phone can be charged up, you can have four bars of signal, but maybe the person at the other end has a lousy signal and your call is dropped. Or you walk into a building and the signal dies. Just having good performance on one end of the line does not translate to good performance at the other end of the line. In reality there are many factors that affect wireless performance.

Internet performance via the cloud works similarly to the dynamics of a wireless network. Understanding market reachability has much to do about how well people in other markets can reach your Internet assets. Think about it. You probably monitor your web sites using application performance management tools to measure how your application behaves and its uptime. You also may monitor known paths across the Internet: links between your data centers or links to partners providing website content. But your level of Internet performance hinges on one very important question: “Can my customers and users see me - and reach me - now?”

Each geographic market has Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that connect customers to the Internet, and those local ISPs connect to larger ISPs that ultimately connect to geographies all over the world. Your website sits in data centers or in the cloud with its own Internet connectivity. This combined connection path between your website and these ISPs is how you get to different markets. These days, every business is Internet based, which means your customer can come from any market.

Even a North American-focused company is still concerned about dozens of important markets. Global companies can be connecting to customers in up to 800 markets. Knowing how well your web assets can reach a market allows you to plan business expansion, plan cloud, CDN and hosting investments, and tune your application and performance metrics by market.

Urs Hölzle from Google once said, “At scale, everything breaks.” The Internet is the ultimate in network scale. Constantly changing conditions, relationships and dynamic traffic make seeing problems in the Internet core difficult and isolating problems while they are happening a nearly impossible task.

I like to call this problem market reachability. A significant portion of your application performance challenges can really come from performance challenges across the Internet. Assets in data centers, cloud service providers and CDNs have trouble effectively reaching markets of geographically grouped customers on a regular basis.

There are vendors that can help you measure and monitor market reachability, but it’s not easy: you need to reliably determine points to monitor in those 800 worldwide markets, and you need monitoring infrastructure all over the Internet to generate a good “everywhere to everywhere” understanding of Internet performance.

Measuring and monitoring is a good start: you can understand baseline performance and get alerted when it changes. But what do you do with that information? How do you mitigate performance challenges and route around outages and slowdowns?  

There are different ways, but coming as I do from a DNS background, that’s an option I gravitate toward. You can use “DNS steering” to return different answers at the DNS level to send customers to the best asset based on performance, location or other criteria.

Don’t wait until you are in the throes of a crisis: plan now to monitor reachability in your critical markets and have a strategy for mitigating performance problems when you encounter them. And the next time you are planning new market launches or solving a customer problem, think about market reachability and ask, “Can you see me now?”

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