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30 Jan 2024

Demystifying Network Latency: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

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Sharon Duchin
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In the world of networking, latency is a critical factor that directly impacts the performance and responsiveness of a network. Understanding and managing latency is crucial for ensuring a seamless and efficient network experience, as it directly affects speed, reliability, and overall user satisfaction.  In this article, we will delve into the concept of network latency, explore its significance, and discuss strategies to minimize its impact on network performance.

Why Teridion?
Teridion solves network latency for global enterprises by using powerful 
AI-driven route detection.

What Is Network Latency?

Network latency, also known as lag, is the term used to describe the delay or time taken for data to travel from its source to its destination across a network. It is a crucial metric that measures the responsiveness and speed of data transmission. Latency is typically measured in milliseconds (ms) and can vary depending on various factors within the network infrastructure.

At its core, network latency represents the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point to another. This includes the time it takes for the packet to be transmitted from the sender to the receiver, as well as the time it takes for the receiver to process and respond to the packet. In other words, it encompasses the entire round-trip time (RTT) of a data packet.

Causes of Network Latency

Understanding the various causes of high latency is essential for effectively managing and optimizing network performance. Whether it’s addressing hardware limitations, optimizing website design, or tackling network congestion, recognizing the root causes of latency allows for proactive solutions to minimize delays and provide a smoother online experience.

Long Distances

One of the primary culprits behind network latency is the physical distance that data must travel. When data has to journey across long distances, such as between continents or across vast geographical areas, it encounters unavoidable delays. This is because even at the speed of light, data transmission takes time. The farther it has to go, the longer it takes, introducing latency. This is a fundamental consideration in global networks, where signals may need to cross multiple time zones before reaching their destination.

Network Congestion

Network congestion is another common cause for latency that occurs when the volume of data on a network exceeds its capacity to handle it efficiently. Think of it as a traffic jam on the information superhighway. When too many users or devices are trying to send or receive data simultaneously, it leads to packet collisions and queuing delays. Network congestion can happen on both local networks and the broader internet, impacting the speed at which data packets can travel.

Hardware Delays

The hardware that makes up the network infrastructure can also introduce latency. Routers, switches, and other network devices all have finite processing capabilities. When these devices become overloaded or experience hardware-related issues, they may not be able to process data as quickly as intended. This leads to delays as data packets wait in line to be processed, increasing latency.

End-User Issues

Sometimes, the source or destination of data can be the root cause of latency. For example, if your computer or device is running numerous applications or tasks simultaneously, it may not be able to process incoming data promptly, leading to latency. Additionally, issues on the receiving end, such as a slow or overwhelmed server, can cause delays in delivering data to the user.

Website Construction

How a website or web application is built can also affect latency. Complex, resource-heavy web pages with numerous scripts and large media files may take longer to load, especially on slower internet connections. Proper website optimization and content delivery strategies can mitigate this issue, ensuring a faster user experience.

Latency vs. Bandwidth vs. Throughput — What Is the Difference?

Bandwidth, latency and throughput are three important concepts in networking, but they represent different aspects of network performance. Imagine a group of people filling up water bottles at a water dispenser. This scenario can represent data transfer in a network.

Latency is like the time it takes for a person to walk from their spot to the water dispenser, fill their bottle, and return to their spot. Lower latency would mean people are closer to the dispenser and can quickly fetch water, while higher latency means they are farther away, resulting in a longer wait. Latency is measured in milliseconds (ms) and represents the time it takes for a data packet to make a round trip. 

Bandwidth can be compared to the number of taps on the water dispenser. More taps allow multiple people to fill their bottles simultaneously. High bandwidth means more data can be transferred at the same time, similar to multiple people filling their bottles simultaneously from several taps and a wider pipe. Bandwidth is typically measured in bits per second (bps) or megabits per second (Mbps).

Throughput is akin to the total number of filled water bottles per unit of time. It represents the actual amount of data transferred. In our scenario, it would be the number of filled bottles in a minute. Even with low latency and high bandwidth, if the people are slow at filling their bottles, the throughput might still be limited. Throughput is measured in bits per second (bps) or bytes per second (Bps).

So, you can think of latency as the time it takes for a single person to fetch and return with water, bandwidth as the number of taps available for concurrent use, and throughput as the total number of filled bottles in a given time frame.

What Is Good Latency and Why It Matters for Business

From a business perspective, good latency can vary depending on the specific application and industry. However, there are some general guidelines for how to measure network latency and desirable latency speeds.

For applications that require real-time interaction, such as video conferencing, or financial trading, latency should ideally be below 50 milliseconds. Websites, e-commerce platforms, and cloud-based services should aim for latency under 100 milliseconds to provide a seamless user experience. Content delivery networks (CDNs) and streaming services should maintain latency below 1 second to ensure smooth video playback and fast content loading. In industrial and IoT settings, latency requirements can be stricter. Latency under 10 milliseconds may be necessary for critical applications like autonomous vehicles or manufacturing processes. Finally, for cloud-based data analysis, latency around 10-20 milliseconds is often acceptable, although lower is always better.

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and the specific needs of a business can vary. Lower latency is typically better, but it often comes at a higher cost, so businesses must balance their performance requirements with their budget.

How to Monitor Network Latency

Monitoring network latency is crucial for maintaining the performance and reliability of your network infrastructure. Besides affecting user experience through things like slow-loading web pages, sluggish response times in applications, or choppy VoIP (audio latency) and video conferencing (optic latency), latency issues can also be indicative of network problems or even security issues such as a network intrusion or DDoS attack. Monitoring helps in identifying and addressing these issues promptly.

Several tools and techniques are available for monitoring latency.  Ping is a basic tool that sends ICMP echo requests to a destination and measures the response time. It’s simple but effective for a quick check. Traceroute  is valuable for diagnosing routing issues by tracing the route packets take to reach a destination and displaying the latency at each hop.  OWAMP (One-Way Active Measurement Protocol) and TWAMP (Two-Way Active Measurement Protocol) are standardized protocols for measuring network performance. They provide more comprehensive data than Ping, including one-way and two-way latency metrics. Finally, iPerf is a versatile tool for measuring network bandwidth and latency that is particularly useful for assessing network performance over extended periods and for stress testing.

Teridion offers advanced network monitoring solutions that provide real-time visibility into network performance. These capabilities include end-to-end latency monitoring from the source to the destination, helping to identify and resolve performance bottlenecks. Teridion can also analyze the specific routes data takes through the internet, with insights into latency introduced by various intermediaries. This includes accessing historical latency data to identify trends and patterns, and aiding in long-term network optimization. Moreover, Teridion’s monitoring system can trigger alerts when latency exceeds predefined thresholds, helping to proactively address issues.

How to Improve Network Latency

Reducing latency involves reducing the delay in data transmission between devices over a network. The following are some best practices to improve network latency, however specific solutions will depend on a network’s unique characteristics and requirements, so we advise regularly monitoring network performance and adapting strategies as needed.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

CDNs distribute website content across multiple data centers strategically located around the world. This reduces the physical distance data needs to travel to reach users, which, in turn, decreases latency. Be sure to choose a reliable CDN provider with a global presence and ensure they offer dynamic content caching for a faster delivery of personalized content.

HTTP/2

HTTP/2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor (HTTP/1.1) when it comes to latency. It allows for multiplexing, which means multiple requests and responses can be sent simultaneously over a single connection. To optimize usage of HTTP/2, make sure your server supports HTTP/2. Most modern web servers do, so it’s mostly a matter of configuration. Also, implement server push to preload assets like CSS and JavaScript, further reducing round trips.

Reduce the Number of HTTP Requests

Fewer HTTP requests mean lower latency. You can achieve this by combining multiple CSS and JavaScript files into one to minimize HTTP requests.  Use image sprites to reduce the number of image requests, and employ lazy loading for images and videos, loading them only when they come into the user’s viewport.

Browser Caching

Browser caching can significantly improve latency by storing a copy of static resources in the user’s browser. Set appropriate cache-control headers on your web server to specify how long assets should be cached. Use versioning in your resource URLs (e.g., image.jpg?v=2) to force the browser to download new versions when they change.

Optimize Network Routing

Optimizing network routing can significantly reduce latency by ensuring that data takes the most efficient path from the source to the destination. Common ways of achieving this include implementing Quality of Services (QoS) policies, load balancing, anycast routing, and SD-WAN technology. Teridion offers AI-powered routing, in which AI analyzes the best path for data traffic in real-time and bypasses congested routes to dramatically reduce latency.

Reducing Latency with Teridion

Teridion’s Network as a Service platform eliminates the disruptive network latency issues that often hinder effective communication and undercut productivity for global work teams. 

We guarantee SLA using AI-powered routing that tracks networks in real time and dynamically directs traffic to the most available data pathways while in transit. By utilizing 25 cloud providers around the globe, and applying horizontal and vertical scalability, Teridion delivers bandwidth on-demand and instantiates unlimited machines to support traffic volume wherever and whenever it is needed. The result is not only low latency, but also low jitter and packet loss for a seamless connection that feels like teams are working together in the same room, even when they’re on the other side of the world.

Check out these case studies to learn more about how Teridion improves network latency for global enterprises.

Picture of Sharon Duchin
Sharon Duchin

Head of Marketing

Sharon Duchin is the Head of Marketing at Terdion. Prior to joining Teridion she was the CMO of several startups, as well as a Business Unit Manager at Keter Plastic and a Marketing Manager at General Mills USA. Sharon Holds an MBA from Chicago Booth and a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Economics from the Hebrew University.
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