Last month there was an impassioned article in the Australian discussing the shortcomings of the current internet infrastructure in Australia, and the impact that poor performance has on economic and educational opportunities for the country. While I agree deeply with the heart of this article – to thrive in the 21st century, we need reliable internet access – I believe the author focused prominently on government intervention to improve infrastructure, while not addressing what can be done today. That is crucial because there is plenty both Australian companies and foreign companies interested in Australian consumers can do to improve their performance while they wait for government action.
The article is essentially referencing the so called “Last Mile”, i.e., the final hop in the data path for internet traffic before it interacts with a user. The management of the physical infrastructure is handled by local ISP companies which bring the lines to their customers. While this is incredibly important and is the portion of the internet end-users think about the most, it is actually a small portion of the total path that data travels from a company’s infrastructure to the end-users’ device.
Companies and brands can have far greater influence over the rest of the path by their choice of location that the content is served from, as well as the network service providers used to access the Australian market.
Location, Location, Location
It’s a matter of physics. Fiber optic cables transmit information via light, which is the fastest way we know how. Einstein calculated that the maximum speed of light is 300,000 km/second in a vacuum. However fiber optic cable isn’t a vacuum, it’s glass. The light isn’t going straight through either, it’s bouncing off the walls which adds to the length it has to traverse. This slows the light down to ~200,000 km/s which means a trip around the world (40,075 km) takes a minimum of 200 milliseconds (ms). If you want your content served faster, you have to get it closer.
Unfortunately many American brands serve content from US based data centers for international markets. Let’s suppose you build the standard East Coast US / West Coast US network with two AWS nodes, and send Asian traffic to California. I’ve seen thousands of configurations like this, yet here is how they perform globally:
Traditional networks are simply not adequate to completely serve global markets, and brands must push more resources closer to the edge to serve them. This can be done through the use of CDNs for assets you can easily distribute, as well as increasing your own network footprint for resources that can not.
How do you get there?
So you drop in your APAC data center over in Hong Kong or Singapore, and that gives you decent coverage for most of the region, but you’re Aussies keep calling the support line. What gives?
Network teams today have more choice with connectivity than ever, but as carriers consolidate this can have unexpected consequences. One, is the possible decrease in total resiliency to the brand when the backup link has the same path as the primary. A second is inefficient handoff characteristics when peering with a business peer to the carrier brings traffic vastly out of the preferred route, often to cut costs.
Choice in connectivity is the difference from going straight to Australia, or being pulled through the States. There can be huge fluctuations in performance, not to mention the reliability and security implications. At the end of the day, telcos are making calls based off their bottom line – these don’t always align with a brand’s interests.
The point I want to get across is that there are options available today. It is the responsibility of the company to explore them and to truly understand how their online infrastructure reaches their target markets. This can be complicated, which is why we recommend they work with a trusted third party provider to evaluate what is best for the nature of their business. In the long run it is a very worthy conversation because the companies that learn how to own the internet will be the ones who are the big winners in the region.