The Internet has shifted under our feet

The way traffic moves over the Internet has changed radically in the last five years, according to a new report, and few people have realized it.

Arbor Networks measures network performance for its customers, but it has also used its vantage point to look at overall Internet trends. The company found that the bulk of Internet traffic no longer moves across Tier-1 international transit providers. Instead, the traffic is handled directly by large content providers, content delivery networks and consumer networks. That is, it moves directly from one of these edge networks to another, rather than going over a Tier-1 carrier's backbone.

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You can probably guess what some of these rising providers are: Google, Microsoft, Facebook. Arbor says there are about 30 of these companies – which Arbor calls “hyper giants” – that generate and consume about 30% of all Internet traffic.

You probably don’t even think of the Internet in these terms. I know that I see the Internet as an extremely diverse place with many, many voices, all with their own Web sites. But the portals or windows that I use to view that world are the same ones that most other people use.

The rise of Google and other companies that provide content, host those many voices, and provide a view into the rest of the Web is profound, and I’m not sure anyone fully understands the implications of that change.

Arbor says that a more densely interconnected edge network means more traffic will more often be exchanged locally. Arbor also tries to focus on the changes to the overall Internet commercial ecosystem:

“A wave of innovation is ongoing, with service providers now offering everything from triple play services to managed security services, VPNs and increasingly, CDNs. This change in the Internet business ecosystem has significant ongoing implications for backbone engineering, design of Internet scale applications and research.”

Arbor also notes that Internet applications used to use a more diverse set of application-specific protocols and communication stacks, but that has consolidated as well. Traffic these days is concentrated on a small number of Web and video protocols, while peer-to-peer traffic has nosedived in the past two years.

Arbor is scheduled to formally present its findings at the NANOG47 meeting in Dearborn, Mich., next week. The report draws on more than 256 exabytes of Internet traffic data over two years.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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