Remember the Information Superhighway? It’s what some folks used to call the Internet back in the 1990s. Those of us lucky enough to have access from home were using dial-up modems that were over 1,000 times slower than the cable modem I’m using right now. Nothing very Super about that and the Internet has never remotely resembled a Highway. For example, suppose you wanted to drive from Chicago to New York as quickly as possible. Would you ever go via Texas? Or suppose you only wanted to travel from one part of Singapore to another. Would you first get on a boat to California, only to immediately sail back to a different part of the city? No, you wouldn’t, but this sort of thing happens all the time with your internet traffic on the Information Superhighway we use today. (See this presentation or this blog for a few more examples.)
The highway analogy immediately breaks down since the internet consists entirely of private roads (i.e., cables). Yes, there are cables between Chicago and New York, but you might not be able to use them since your provider and its various partners don’t have the appropriate access. So maybe you take the scenic route via Texas or Los Angeles. Yet unless you happen to live in a country that restricts internet access, you can pretty much get to anywhere you want to go, which is a very good thing. However, your traffic might just flow via very long and circuitous paths, a fact that has serious implications for both performance and security. In this blog, we focus on the performance issues around having your traffic travel half way around the world to get down the street. In a subsequent post, we’ll look at the issue of security and how errant paths can be exploited.