Monday, January 15, 2018

Where is the Internet?

     It’s probably the most important and complex infrastructure ever devised in all human history, yet who can point to it?  Almost everyone on Earth has access to it for quickly retrieving any conceivable kind of interesting and helpful information and for globally communicating, yet few seem to know exactly what it is.  Like the air we breathe, it’s invisible, yet it’s everywhere.

     In large part it can indeed be imagined as a net thrown over the planet.  It is interconnected by thousands of miles of 329 undersea cables and buried land cables, which crisscross the ocean beds and transmit the vast majority of the world’s data, assisted by numerous satellites and cellular networks.  It is a grid or mesh in which any computer can converse with any other computer on the planet, provided they both are connected to that Net.

     The Net is wired into some 4,000 co-location data centers around the world, half of which are in the United States, and each of which hosts many websites, which are small segments of the World Wide Web, which is in turn built on top of the Net.  There are dozens of root name servers scattered around the planet, but operated by only twelve independent private companies, where domain names are translated into IP addresses that all our devices—computers, tablets, smartphones—can then converse with.  There are 13 vast Google data centers, seven of them in the United States and six of those in the Midwest, where your search history is stored.  There are four massive Facebook data centers, three in the United States and one in Scandinavia, loaded with cute pet photos, vacation vids, birthday and holiday wishes, friend requests, and political rants.  There are other related Net components and filaments, but these are the major ones.

     So now if somebody asks you what the devil the Net is, you’ll be able to explain it to them, right?


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