The internet turned 52 this year and has transformed human existence in the intervening years. More than 4.6 billion users worldwide — 60% of the global population — have access to the internet. For those with access (and those that will have it), communications, entertainment, politics, health care, music, literature, and most other aspects of life have been fundamentally changed. Digitization — moving from analog to digital data — is the driving force behind these changes, and the internet is the communications method that allows it to flourish.
However, figuring out how to manage the rapid acceleration of digitization is an ongoing challenge. Advancements in AI, machine learning, predictive technologies, and alternate reality technologies are presenting new opportunities, but significant technical challenges must be addressed for them to be realized.
According to IDC, by 2025, 175 zettabytes, or 175 trillion gigabytes, of data will be generated around the globe annually. The flood of digitized data is increasing requirements for larger technology stacks to store, compute, analyze, and move the data. Enterprises are struggling to balance the ever-increasing complexity of compute, storage, and connectivity with service delivery to end users while maintaining long-term growth expectations. How do they meet the demands and expectations of customers across multiple platforms and geographies in a way that is scalable and does not introduce risk? It is also fundamentally changing requirements for connecting with the proper internet networks and cloud partners to seamlessly deliver services with the lowest latency.
Digitization, as it scales, is the internet’s mid-life crisis. As digital data continues to proliferate, the architecture of the internet must proliferate and scale as well to ensure it doesn’t hit a wall.
As global analog economies give way to an interconnected digital economy, the internet’s core architecture is at the heart of virtually every major business model. The internet is made up of thousands of separate networks that exchange traffic via core routers, which allows it to seem ubiquitous when it really isn’t.
Since the advent of the internet, core routers in the U.S. have largely been concentrated and centralized in a dozen buildings (carrier hotels) in major markets. Virtually every U.S. enterprise business relies on a carrier hotel as a gateway to delivering content to its end users. That’s where nearly all of the U.S. cloud and internet traffic is traded between networks — a model the industry has relied on since the early 2000s, with a similar dynamic existing in Europe and Asia.
The massive proliferation of data is now stressing these carrier hotels, typically located in urban downtown locations, to reach or exceed their ability to expand space and power. This is particularly disconcerting when you consider the increasing connectivity requirements for the next phase of digitization taking shape. Transport pathways through these buildings have become increasingly congested, challenging low-latency digital service delivery. The reliance on these locations creates technical risk and limits opportunities for more communities to participate in the internet’s growth and economic potential. The current model is not suited to serve the digital economy taking shape — technically or economically. They have become single points of failure that can no longer scale.
The Internet Ecosystem Infrastructure Committee (IEIC) weighed in on this during a virtual panel titled, How Resilient is the Internet? The group examined business risks associated with the current lack of resiliency. The consensus was that the current model is not sustainable. And, while the internet was not architected for resilience at current and future scale, they agreed there is time to address the challenge to minimize or prevent future consequences.
The most prescient data center providers are developing comprehensive in-building interconnection ecosystems in key markets and adjacent to the carrier hotels. They are adding fiber providers, cloud access nodes, internet exchanges, IP networks, network access points, diverse transport paths, subsea cables, and ample space and power — all to decentralize and spread these networks out in order to reduce risk and expense.
They are next-generation interconnection hubs that represent the future of the industry supporting growth of the internet.
If you think of the internet as a highway system, having multiple points of connectivity and interconnection prevents congestion and eliminates single points of failure. Leading hyperscalers, carriers, cloud providers, content delivery networks, peering exchanges, and subsea cable providers recognize this and are seeking new connectivity ecosystems critical for the continued transport of fast and reliable data (content) on the internet.
The goal is to deliver a decentralized internet core that ensures digitized data is delivered in a lower risk environment. An example would be a Netflix Series consumed on a smart TV. Whether the end customer knows it or not, the core network design required to deliver that digital product is undergoing a decentralization transformation to ensure high-quality delivery with lower risk no matter how much the total universe of digitized data or the network required to support it grows.
Emerging global marketplace
We are entering a period where the possibilities of new technology and applications will continue to change our lives. Virtual and augmented reality, speech and facial recognition, geo tracking, virtual assistants, autonomous vehicles, biodata, robotics, etc. — the list is endless and reliant on the massive and exponentially increasing volumes of data that must crisscross the internet backbone.
To participate in the new digitized landscape, every business with a digital strategy will need to be colocated with internet and cloud networks in next generation interconnection data centers featuring ample space and power and a myriad of connectivity options. It is this new breed of data center that will become a magnet for business and networking interests to colocate near each other creating a vital “marketplace” where network and content providers can cross-connect and cross-sell within the data center.
Large enterprises are becoming more sophisticated and are already adapting to the shift taking place. In a way, they are becoming telcos and internet companies in and of themselves and need to participate in the marketplace concept described above. They recognize that by interconnecting in-building, there are a myriad of new options for business they can do with each other and other industries.
And, while I described some of the limitations of the current architecture of the internet as a mid-life crisis, we are actually in the adolescent stage, at best. Like any teenager, the internet is rapidly learning, experimenting, failing, and growing but will eventually reach the maturity required to function well in the world.