With all the talk about the issues of Internet bandwidth and it’s availability for the services that they consume, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern that has emerged within the wider consumer landscape of the Internet.

The scary bit is that is has an an analogue in the “real” world too.

Let’s go back in time… A long time ago people created towns and villages based around strategically important places where it was easy to transport goods, defend land or produce things. They banded together for many reasons – safety, social reasons, familial bonds and so on. For brevity’s sake I’m not going to examine the larger social and economic issues etc 🙂 Each “community” spent most of it’s time within itself and for various reasons only a small part interacting with other communities. The larger the community, the larger the amount of interactions with other smaller or similar size (“peer”) communities, or even larger communities. The size of the traffic between each of these points was illustrated by the size of roads. The core point here is that there is an assumption that for the most part, local traffic comprises more of the day-to-day interaction needed with external traffic being a lesser part.

This point, wether it is deliberately used or not, is the foundation of how the links between communities is envisaged. When it breaks down is when satellite communities of a larger community stop having local resources or any interest for the members of that community who are then forced (or chose) to travel all the time to the larger community. At this point the roads become highways, but the inner roads in the larger town remain the same… the larger town still assumes local traffic is the dominant factor, but in fact it has virtually grown to consume those smaller communities. In Britain we already have the concept of “commuter villages”, which are essentially a group of houses where all amenities are actually in a larger centre somewhere else.

So what has this got to do with the Internet ? When DARPA originally created the Internet, they wanted to create a network that was full of redundant sites that are connected to each other but not dependent, so that losing a site would not cripple the network. Essentially lots of localised “communities” whose local traffic was generally more important then the external traffic, but who could share information with others. Before the Internet was a ubiquitous connection for everyone, we had Office Lans which were also local communities, with links to larger or peer sites else where. The Office Lan became some variation on a Star topology network that allowed the Office (or campus) community to be connected together and do their work.

In the meantime broadband became cheap and everyone got the chance to be connected, and now, we consume centralised services from major players: Google, BBC, Reuters, YouTube, Microsoft, Steam, stackoverflow (kidding 🙂 etc… . This has turned the Internet from a collection of localised sites linked to each other to a relatively small number of “Star” topology networks overlaid on top of each other. In turn this means that anyone near one of the gathering points to the centre of the star is seeing an awful lot of traffic. Remember the roads ? Well we now have increasing amounts of traffic on major highways back into a centralised infrastructure which is not much bigger then the feed roads, and because these “Stars” are all provided by different people, the “Centre” is not in the same place for each one, which distorts the picture even more. If these links ever break it then disconnects the centre from the network or part of the network which increases the impact it might otherwise have had. It also makes peer-to-peer very hit and miss since instead of all the local traffic seeding it, “local” is now maybe the entire country, but spread across a multitude of different ISPs and access points. In a town of 20 million maybe 2 million people want the same content, but that does mean there are ~20 million connection points to a large set of exchanges, each can be connected to either BT or a different provider, each of whom would need to talk to each other or the centralised point that provides the content. In this world it is understandable that some might want more control over the amount of traffic that flows over their gateways. It would also make the costs of transit clearer, rather then hiding it in the peering arrangements of 3rd parties like the ISPs.

Maybe the global player also needs to be the local man.