The internet is a loosely organized collection of ISPs (organized into groups called Autonomous Systems) which connect to one another and swap traffic based on peering agreements. Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) – the routing protocol that enables traffic swapping between ISPs – is based on the network connectivity of multiple autonomous systems.
In essence, if Autonomous System 1 needs to communicate with Autonomous System 2, BGP is the way in which both systems will communicate. It is the glue that holds the internet together. It connects us to each other; our information and applications around the world. When you upload a photo to Facebook, somehow the photo has to leave your media device and connect to Facebook’s server, and BGP is the communication system which allows this to happen. Or another example, imagine you are going on a trip. When you travel within your state, think of it as one system. You can take certain roads to maneuver through your state. However, if you want to travel to another state entirely, you would have to take an interstate to get there. BGP is the interstate that allows you to travel to that other state.
The problem is that BGP, by itself, is not conducive or was designed for today’s internet. The protocol is antiquated. The version (BGPv4) used in 1994 is the same one that’s being used today. Every aspect of the internet has changed over the past two decades. From applications and usability, to content and accessibility, everything has become drastically more demanding.
Let’s take a quick peek at the differences between the Internet in the mid 90’s from today with regards to the who, what, where, when and most importantly, the why.
90’s vs 2016: The Who
In the 90’s, there were about 2 million computers connected around the world. Scholars, scientists and the government were the primary users of the Internet. Computers had just started becoming commonplace at home, though home network connectivity would not gain popularity until later in the century. Compare that to today’s 4 billion users around the world and over 13 billion devices connected ( including the Internet of Things, or IoT). Imagine having roads built for a small town and very rapidly bringing in the population of a large city with the same infrastructure. Network pundits did not anticipate how large and how fast the internet would grow and BGP was not planned for such a congested networked world.
90’s vs 2016: The What
In 1994, Netscape Navigator launched as the world’s first commercial web browser. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer would not come for another two years and Mozilla’s Firefox, not for another ten. The majority of the content was text based, accessed via the command line interface (CLI) on terminals. Today, we have rich multimedia content and applications being uploaded and consumed everyday. Not only is BGP not equipped to handle large amounts of data, it also does not take into account various aspects of serviceability. For example, some require high throughput like rich video content based applications while others require low latency like real-time communication, gaming and collaboration applications.
90’s vs 2016: The Where and The When
In college, I remember having to go to my school library and schedule time on a pool of connected desktop machines to do my research. People would use telephone lines on their desktops at home to literally dialup a network connection via AOL (America Online) or Compuserve, much like being on a phone call today. The connection speeds were less than 100 Kbps (kilobits per second), and people would go online only some of the time. Today, we are always connected, everywhere, on all devices. Our phones have high speed network connectivity giving us bandwidths of 20-30 or higher Mbps (megabits per second). Think of it like this. Instead of traffic merging from various small roads onto the highway only during rush hour, now we have a constant barrage of cars merging from bigger roads to thinner highways.
90’s vs 2016: The How
BGP was designed for reliability, not speed. Back in the mid 90’s, there were about 10 thousand web sites, compared to today’s 45 billion web pages. Back then, it was important to be able to simply access the information. Today, we have so much information that the importance is now on getting information quicker. If a webpage is down or even slow, we impatiently move to a different site and get the same information somewhere else. Also, a lot of applications inherently require speed, for example, live streaming events vs others where speed may not be as important like file sharing and social media. BGP was built with connectivity in mind, not performance.
90’s vs 2016: The Why
Finally, we come to the most important question and that is why has the internet changed so much and so fast. It all comes down to a symbiotic self-feeding cycle between raised user expectations and higher application performance. Service providers are raising the bar in terms of their content, usability and performance to gain a competitive edge. Meanwhile, consumers are getting acclimated to these new standards and are now expecting everything to be exponentially better than the previous iteration. It’s a never ending cycle. Meanwhile BGP is stuck unchanged in the middle not able to keep up with either side, the service provider or the consumer.
So why am I talking about all this? Well just like we have made the same roads, that have been around since the early 1900’s, more conducive for our travels using intelligent map apps like Waze and Google, we can make the same BGP a better internet routing engine by adding intelligence to the information superhighway. Teridion is leading the charge in this effort by doing something no one has done before. Its charter is to make the Internet faster using the same infrastructure, i.e. BGP, with more intelligence and application awareness. Teridion can intelligently deduce whether an application requires more bandwidth or is latency sensitive and can send it over appropriate routes (much like avoiding construction or traffic congestion during your morning commute). No need to set up content caches or add bigger pipes. We believe in using the same resources smarter.