Yes, the Internet is stronger -- in a structural sense -- than ever. But the concentration of traffic in so few hands raises troubling questions about the ability of the Internet to function when a major originator of traffic goes down or becomes infected. Simply put, Google may be too big to fail, and as we learned during the financial meltdown, that ain't good.
The flat Internet
I tend not to be impressed by studies conducted by vendors, but this one strikes me as quite credible. Arbor -- in collaboration with University of Michigan and Merit Network -- looked at two years of Internet traffic across 110 large and geographically diverse cable operators, international transit backbones, regional networks, and content providers. The results were based on an analysis of 2,949 peering routers across nine Tier-1, 48 Tier-2, and 33 consumer and content providers in the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
The implications of the results are, well, scary. In part that's because the structure of the Internet has changed significantly in the past few years, says Danny McPherson, Arbor's chief security officer and a co-author of the study. Network traffic used to go up and down the food chain of transit providers, an inefficient situation, but one that did not create single points of failure.
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These days, networks are far more likely to be interconnected. On one hand, these networks are more efficient and generally more robust. However, because many are interconnected -- McPherson calls that a "flattening of the Internet" -- when a big one goes down, lots and lots of sites are affected. The results can be far-reaching.
Take the Gmail failure. Not only were the millions of Google users unable to send or receive mail, but users of other systems who needed to send or receive mail from Gmail users were also out of luck. Given businesses' and consumers' dependence on e-mail, that's troubling.
Then there's the issue of ads. Because Google serves enormous numbers of ads for countless Web sites, what happens when Google's servers are on the fritz? Ad revenue, of course, would take a big hit. So would performance, as browsers try to load ads from unresponsive servers. And if Google is hit by an uncontrollable malware attack, we're all in trouble.