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7 Myths About How the Internet Works

  • The internet is a vast and complicated set of interconnected networks, tying internet service providers, cloud service providers and enterprises together. While the cloud is an exciting new technology that is changing the way the world watches videos, hails taxis, uses money, and shares pictures, it's not clear how these service providers work together in the background to create the value we all enjoy.

    Cloud computing enables companies to create real-time transactions and collaborate to produce applications that are valuable for the real world. However, while cloud computing sounds like it is the same thing as the internet, it's actually a metaphor. Cloud computing uses the internet and obscures the interconnecting infrastructure, platforms, and applications to make transactions seamless, immediate, and convenient for the entire interconnected world. 

    Thanks to this obfuscation, there is a great deal of historical fact and fiction about the origins of the internet, networking, computing, and the interlocking pieces that's melded together to produce myths about how the internet actually works. Let’s take a look at some of these internet myths on the following pages.

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    Jim Poole is the Vice President for Global Ecosystem Development at Equinix. His mission is to explore new and emerging digital ecosystems with a focus on how interconnection can be used to strategic advantage by Equinix customers. Prior to his current role, Jim served as the Vice President for Global Service Provider Marketing, where he was responsible for vertical strategy, messaging and sales activation. Jim has an over 20-year background in the ICT industry. He has held executive level positions at Roundbox, Savvis, C&W Americas, dynamicsoft and UUNET.

  • The internet and the World Wide Web are the same thing 

    While the public uses these labels synonymously, the internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing. The World Wide Web is a series of web pages and domains that host information over the HTTP protocol. The internet, on the other hand, is a set of interconnecting networks that connect millions of computers and devices so they can communicate with one another.  

    While most people see the web and assume it's all the internet contains, the introduction of mobile and internet of Things devices shows how much potential consumer-facing applications have. While most people still approach the internet from user-friendly “windows” that allow them to access the interconnecting networks, it's important to realize that the web is just one aspect of the internet.

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  • Shark bites pose a major threat to subsea cables and can take down the internet 

    This myth stems from a 1987 New York Times article that suggested the possibility a shark could bite a vital subsea cable that makes up the backbone of the internet, and bring an entire country’s internet connection down. If this sounds like something that engineers should have thought of when laying the cables down, it is. All subsea cables are armored with steel wire to protect from underwater phenomena, including shark attacks. Unfortunately for "Jaws" fans, no reported subsea cable faults have ever been discernibly connected to a shark attack.

    According to a study conducted by the International Cable Protection Committee, 60–70% of subsea cable faults are due to fishing/anchoring accidents, 10-15% are due to natural events like landslides, and 5% are due to unknown faults. While the “unknown” label could tempt someone to speculate that sharks are at fault, a shark bite would be very visibly apparent when inspecting a failed subsea cable, and a shark tooth has yet to appear on a damaged cable.

    (Image: Tammy Sue/PublicDomainPictures.net)

  • Data centers are a modern invention, made after the boom of the microcomputer in the 1980s 

    The term data center may be a modern invention, but the concept definitely is not. Pictures of mainframes that encompass an entire room are common from the '60s, but it should be noted that the Colossus computer is considered to be the first data center.

    Built in 1944, the Colussus was the first programmable, electronic, digital computer. In total, 12 Colossus machines were built. However, because the Colossus was integral to unraveling the unbreakable codes created by the German Enigma machines used in World War II, the original machines were dismantled in the '70s to protect the secrecy of the project. It was only recently that the world came to understand the contributions the Colossus computers had on the later design of subsequent computers.

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  • The Internet was an American invention, created by Al Gore 

    While many have had fun in joking about an answer Al Gore made during a 1999 CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, CERN created the first web page in 1960. In fact, it can still be seen here

    As previously mentioned, however, web pages are just one example of what makes up the internet. The creators of the ARPANET first used packet switching technology in the 1980s to interconnect the campuses of UCLA, Stanford, MIT, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. Then in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee developed the idea to create the World Wide Web . By using the web to interconnect independent documents and resources, the world was able to fully realize the potential of information sharing at a global scale.

    Since then, the internet has expanded to include many internetworked connections between devices, networks, and data to create clouds that share information faster and more efficiently than ever before. By interconnecting these networks, the internet is able to provide instant and direct feedback that's massively scalable and flexible.

    (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Dark fiber will burn your eye out like a laser 

    There are a few misconceptions that need to be dispelled about the term dark fiber. By its very nature, dark fiber isn’t lit by any optics – laser or LED. Dark fiber is unused optical fiber, meaning no light is passing through it at all.

    The cautionary tales regarding dark fiber likely stem from the fact that some service providers refer to dark fiber as fiber optics that could be leased and “lit” up at anytime and the fact that the light passed through the optical fiber could be harmful.

    Generally, there are two types of light used to light an optical fiber: LED and Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL). While LEDs are quite common for short-range communications across optical fiber, this type of lit fiber is not harmful at all. However, optical fiber lit by VCSEL, which is used in long-range applications, can cause some eye damage.  It won’t “burn” your eyes out or even burn your skin, but it can damage your eye, so fears around optical fiber aren’t completely unfounded.

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  • Free-space optics is wireless and less secure than wireline connections 

    Free-space optics is a new technology for interconnecting networks that's exciting because it isn’t constrained by the need to traverse a cable – fiber optic, copper or otherwise. This has huge implications as it can reach remote places that the internet normally can’t reach or even provide redundancy to a critical location. The technology actually has been around since the 1960s, but is on a recent upswing thanks to investments by companies like Laser Light. Yet there are some misconceptions about how the technology works.

    By using lasers, free-space optics is able to pass information over the laser’s beam. Because of this, FSO is actually far more secure than RF or other wireless-based transmissions, as the line of sight path requires matching FSO transceivers and isn’t easily intercepted. Given the fact that the laser is invisible, a hacker would need the resources to decrypt the transmission and a way to intercept the beam in the air or in outer space.

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  • Internet bandwidth is unlimited 

    The internet is a network of interconnected data centers, networks, and cloud resources that are owned by companies, universities and other organizations. Each of these organizations has physical locations that use utilities, workers, land and other resources to maintain the connections they provide.

    Even taking these considerations out of play, the physical connection to any node in the internet has bandwidth limitations. Recent innovations are pushing bandwidth speeds upwards per optical fiber – 200 Gbps in 2014 and 400 Gbps just last year -- but the fact is there is always an upper limit. No matter what, every cable is still subject to the basic laws of physics.

    (Image: Devanath/Pixabay)

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