The strange geography of cloud networks

Often, when signing an agreement on the services of cloud providers, customers do not think about where their data will be stored geographically. Meanwhile, there is an unexpected logic to server placement. Let’s talk about it in more detail in this article.

Where is the data stored in the cloud

Today, for many, the Internet is not a place that they visit from time to time, but a space in which they live. Because of this, an interesting distortion arises: a person who is on another continent can seem closer than someone who lives in a neighboring house. In part, this has become possible due to the spread of cloud storage services.

When a user uploads data to the cloud, most often he does not think about where it will be located. For many, the speed of data transfer is much more important than the place of their storage. Understanding geography is the task of a cloud provider who needs to determine the optimal location of points of presence (POP, Point of presence) – a place to place the provider’s equipment.

Based on the selected points, content delivery networks (CDN, Content Delivery Network) are built. CDN is a geographically distributed network infrastructure. It consists of servers and points of presence that receive client data and filter and route traffic, mirroring and caching content. CDN helps to reduce response time and protect sites from overloads when there is an influx of visitors.

What is the principle of building a CDN

Although a CDN is a geographically distributed network, it can be based on more than just physical location. Consider several options for building such networks.

By territorial proximity

One of the world’s largest CDNs, Akamai has over 233,000 servers in over 130 countries and over 1,600 networks. When placing servers, the company selects a location accurate to the quarter. Another CDN provider, Fastly, is betting on a smaller number of points of presence (the company has only 32 of them) and the creation of a network with unique capabilities. The company places its servers at promising intersections of networks.

At the same time, the actions of both companies are based on the same approach. The provider selects sites in accordance with the current or projected market demand, which will allow it to be closer to users.

As networks grow, providers are looking for opportunities to create new PoPs. As a rule, most of them face the same problems. Most of the users are in urban areas, and the locations of the largest networks are well known. Therefore, it seems logical to install servers at the intersection of the largest networks located near the maximum number of users. However, this doesn’t always work, as CDNs are suddenly influenced by politics and culture.

By language

Language is another important factor in determining the location of access points. For example, the distance between European countries is quite small. But in fact, each country caches its own content. In Germany they read and watch German materials, in France they read French. Therefore, each country gets its own PoP.

Australia remains a problem area for ISPs, whose job is to keep the increased traffic within the network where the users are located. If this fails, you have to turn to other nearby networks. Links to Asia have a narrower bandwidth than links to the US West Coast. Therefore, if the user requests a small amount of data, he may receive it from Singapore or Malaysia. Large files are more likely to go through the US.

For political reasons

Another significant point is the place of data storage from the point of view of the legislation of a particular country. Sometimes users themselves want their data to be processed within their country. But more often than not, regulators insist on this. This requires adding capacity to deal with fluctuations in demand for certain content.

Depends on a situation

Sometimes large external events influence the decision to host new servers. For example, in 2010, Akamai provided live streaming of the World Cup. The company had to place its equipment where capacity is needed. To do this, the experts analyzed which teams have a higher chance of qualifying to the next round and when people will watch the match from home, and when from the pub.

Obviously, the further the team goes, the more interest the locals show in broadcasting the championship. Games played outside office hours are likely to be watched on TV at home or in a pub, while games during office hours will be shown in a window on your computer desktop.

Obviously, such complex calculations with forecasts of the development of situations are a difficult task. Therefore, cloud service providers tend to abstract from it, using enough capacity that will last even for peaks in traffic consumption. The trend is that many stories related to geography and language are becoming a thing of the past. Today, companies are trying to bet not on time and geographic location, but on data flow metrics and throughput percentages. Looking forward, providers will continue to decouple the impact of physical conditions on network performance from the physical reality of what happens within networks.

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