This blog is first in a series of 3 blogs on the content delivery chain.
Digital products, services, contents, and data are made up of millions of ones and zeros (bits or binary digits) that start their life on a physical server in a physical location. Anyone who wants to access data needs to move a copy of those ones and zeros from this physical server to his or her physical device (desktop or mobile). This is made possible by the Internet, which is a very complex and interdependent network of millions of systems and protocols working together to serve about five billion active users worldwide. Internet is often described as a network of networks.
Submarine cable systems are simply used to connect physical servers spaced apart from either other physical servers or from access devices. These transmissions ultimately fulfil Internet end-users’ requests. By playing this role, submarine cable systems are part of the end-to-end delivery chain bringing content to end-users.
The key Internet concepts besides the server and the access devices include:
- Router – A router is a networking device that performs the traffic directing functions on the Internet and forwards data packets between computer networks. Data sent through the Internet, such as a web page, a video, or an email, is in the form of data packets. A packet is typically forwarded from one router to another router through the networks that constitute the Internet until it reaches its final destination node.
- IP Address – In order for a device to access the Internet, it needs a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. An IP address is a numeric identifier that allows a device to be accessible to other devices on the Internet.
- Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) – BGP protocol is designed to exchange routing and reachability information among all the networks forming the Internet to allow the servers and the end-user devices to interconnect with each other directly or indirectly. This protocol is never seen by the Internet end-users but is an essential tool for the networks that comprise the Internet.
The binding glue of the Internet is that ALL networks share a standard IP addressing scheme and a global BGP protocol routing framework that allows all these networks to interconnect with each other and data to find its way to its final destination.
Many parties are involved in the content delivery chain. The table below describes who does what at various points along the chain, from content production and storage to the end-users. For the sake of illustration, we have assumed content is produced and stored in the US and end-users are based in France.
Parties involved in the end-to-end content delivery chain
Several parties interact and contribute to the Internet ecosystem and end-to-end delivery chain:
- Content Providers (CPs) – CPs are the content owners that produce or aggregate various digital content and (may) use several intermediaries to deliver their content to end users. This category encompasses large content providers like Facebook and small ones like website owners.
- Hosting Service Providers – Hosting service providers run servers that host the content managed by third parties (content providers, enterprises, or individuals). A common kind of hosting is web hosting service. Cloud hosting constitutes a large portion of this segment and includes Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (Amazon Web Services – AWS).
- Transit Providers – Operators of international transport networks that act as intermediaries between hosting service providers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for relaying traffic. Tier 1 transit providers form what could be called the backbone of the Internet.
- Interconnection Facility Providers – Interconnection facility infrastructure enables the different parties to interconnect directly, through an exchange point, rather than going through one or several transit providers.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) Providers – Network operators that specialize in relaying large volumes of traffic to several ISPs, in various geographical locations, using cache servers installed near Internet end-users. The purposes of these networks are to improve efficiency (i.e., so that the same static content does not need to be distributed from the source to the destination) and for reducing latency to improve the user’s experience.
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – Network operators that provide access to the Internet to both personal and business customers via fixed or mobile access technologies. They also provide additional services like email services, domain registration, and web hosting.
In a future post, we will see how the various providers of the content delivery chain are interconnected to each other and how subsea cable systems fit into this delivery chain.
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