Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Ugly compromise

I've blogged at length about network management. If you don't accept my position, here's more information.

The second link to Ars Technica details a proposed solution from Google.

He suggests instead a rate cap where users can "purchase access to the Internet at a given minimum data rate and be free to transfer data at at least up to that rate in any way they wish."

Quick show of hands? How many Internet users already think this is what they're paying for?

This is an important point. Guess how much bandwidth you are guaranteed on your Internet connection? How does 0, nothing, nil, nada grab you?

Generally speaking, you are not guaranteed a minimum level of service. Somewhere in your contract are weasel words exempting the ISP from providing non-stop guaranteed access.

In essence, your 5 Mb ISP service contract, guarantees you a 5 Mb connection during "optimal conditions".

Our recent problems (especially, Peer-to-peer or P2P sharing applications, like BitTorrent) all stem from a business model of the Internet that didn't (and can't) keep up with how applications evolved. From the Ars article again:

ISPs don't want to pay for huge amounts of peak capacity that will sit unused much of the time. ISPs oversold service on the premise that they operate like roads and most cars wouldn't be on the highway at once. As unattended apps like P2P and network backup utilities tie up a portion of bandwidth for ever longer periods of time, the old solutions aren't working as well and congestion is one result.

Before you start flogging ISPs for being behind the curve, and being technically obtuse, I'd like to explain something. For the longest time (ie 10 years or more, which is a very long time in the computer world) the Internet was built with large central servers providing content to multiple users. I.e., a hub and spoke model. The content is at the hub, and the spokes radiate away to each users home. Users connected to the hubs to get e-mail, surf web pages (use blogger) etc. The majority of the Internet still runs on this model. So this is how networks evolved to serve this content. Cables were trenched, fiber lines were run and interconnects between ISPs were setup based on this model.

Granted, the Internet always technically allowed any connection (including the home user) to set themselves up as a hub. To deal with this, ISPs specifically excluded server type services from the contract you agreed to. I.e., if you setup a web server or an e-mail server in your home, your ISP likely got annoyed at you and insisted if you wanted to do that, you had to pay for business class service, as consumer class service wasn't priced or provisioned to accommodate that. If you wanted to be a hub, you had to pay for the privilege.

P2P blew this model out of the water. It is a completely new paradigm on the Internet. This moved all of the content away from the traditional hub server to all of the spokes. If you look at the hub and spoke model (literally a wagon wheel with the rim removed), there is no direct connection from spoke to spoke. Yes, on the Internet, everything is connected, but when you follow the actual physical cabling pathways, the hub and spoke model becomes apparent.

Again, this is an infrastructure issue. In Japan, South Korea, where the infrastructure is much newer, they were able to see the changes coming and designed their infrastructure differently (100Mbps fiber links to the home , drooooollllll) (Also, a compact population density is a big plus for this. The more homes per sq/km make it more cost effective to deploy expensive cabling like fiber. In Canada, and even the US, the dispersed population adds to the challenge immensely).

So the proposed solution is that you can subscribe to a guaranteed minimum of service. This is workable but ugly. Why? Well, that 5 Mb link you have? You won't be guaranteed 5 Mb. You're gonna be guaranteed 512 kb, or 10% of your connection speed.

Why? Well the service is still oversubscribed. This solution does nothing to add capacity, or upgrade the infrastructure. Its a compromise.

Which is fine, for the short term. But we have to upgrade our infrastructure, or this problem will continue to get worse, and even this compromise will be overwhelmed by consumer demand.

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