Impact of Consumer Broadband on Internet Infrastructure


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White Paper written in 2002 on Broadband's Impact on Internet Infrastructure

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Impact of Consumer Broadband on Internet Infrastructure

  1. 1. The Impact of Consumer Broadband on Internet Infrastructure Ste ven M. Keifer White Paper JULY 2003
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  3. 3. :: 3 Table of Contents Tincidunt ut Laoreet Dolore sed Magna. The Evolution of Consumer Broadband .................................................................................5 Broadband for Product Managers ..........................................................................................6 Broadband for IT Managers ....................................................................................................8 Broadband for Retailers .........................................................................................................10 Digex for Broadband Readiness ...........................................................................................13 About Digex ............................................................................................................................14 References ..............................................................................................................................15
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  5. 5. :: 5 The Evolution of Consumer Broadband Consumer broadband was the subject of great investment and media hype in the late 1990s. Many investors and analysts believed that high-speed access would sweep the nation as consumers demanded new types of graphically rich, multimedia-oriented content. Unfortunately, the publicity was quickly muted as the era and its overstated expectations were deflated in early 2000. Surprisingly, broadband has rather modestly achieved an impressive level of penetration into U.S. households. Led by DSL products from telecommunications carriers, and by cable modem service from home entertainment providers, broadband has become an affordable alternative to traditional ISP offerings. Studies indicate that more than 20 percent of U.S. online households currently have a broadband connection. Forrester Research predicts that given current growth rates, the number of broadband users will surpass the number of dial-up users by the year 20041. Broadband Usage in U.S. Households Source: Forrester Research Technographics® Research: Three Tiers For Broadband, October 2002 CONSUMER TECHNOGRAPHICS NORTH AMERICA The impressive adoption rates suggest that perhaps the broadband vision of the late 1990s can be achieved, but over a less aggressive timeframe. One noticeable difference between the predicted evolution and the actual development of broadband has been the motivating factors driving consumers to upgrade. Most consumers are not upgrading to access new types of streaming or enhanced content. Instead, broadband buyers are simply looking to do the same things they do today, but faster. Consumers are looking for seamless transitions between Web pages, compressed timeframes for MP3 downloads, and rapid uploading of digital photos. Broadband users have an “always-on” (or “often-on”) connection — one that returns search queries, page downloads, and file transfers in seconds instead of minutes. Stop for a moment to consider the effect that broadband could have on everyday household activities. Suddenly, visiting to get your team’s highlights becomes faster than waiting for Sports Center’s game coverage. Clicking on becomes less effort than sorting through your local newspaper for show times. Searching Yahoo! Yellow Pages becomes more convenient than flipping through a musty old phone book.
  6. 6. empowers Hosting Empowers Business SM :: White Pap er 6 These types of lifestyle behavior changes are driven by the demand for an always-on, faster Internet connection. Indeed, the shift to broadband has many applications. These changes represent new opportunities, but also new challenges to U.S. corporations. The following sections offer an in-depth perspective on the implications of broadband for product managers, IT managers, and retail site designers. Broadband for Product Managers Product managers in almost every industry are leveraging the Internet to establish stronger relationships directly with consumers. Online advertising is often the most obvious choice for consumer outreach. While online advertising has proved effective in certain scenarios, it is still maturing as it seeks to define its niche and price-to-return ratio. However, the effectiveness of Web sites is demonstrated and measurable across a broad range of scenarios. As such, many consumer marketing efforts are directed at driving end-users to destination Web sites. Traffic is driven through promotion in various marketing channels. Rarely do you see a television commercial, print advertisement, or even a product package that does not prominently display the corporation’s Web site. Once the consumer connects to a brand’s Web site, relationship marketing experts offer a variety of seductive content types to encourage regular, repeated visits. Some sites offer consultation on everyday consumer experiences such as having a baby, planning a wedding, or preparing for the holidays. Others offer unique cost incentives for product purchases such as electronic coupons, free samples, or even promotional sweepstakes. Perhaps most creative are the brand sites that offer a selection of multimedia entertainment options such as interactive games, streaming video-casts, or even online celebrity chat events. Regardless of the technique used, the end goal is to drive repeated visits to the target Web sites. For the brand managers who own these sites, broadband presents a tremendous opportunity. The increased frequency and duration of Web site usage offers the opportunity to learn more about consumers, to position value in everyday experiences, and to encourage brand loyalty in purchasing patterns. However, product managers face a difficult decision in confronting how best to attract the broadband user community. At 20 percent, this market represents a critical mass worthy of consideration in site design and content. But another 80 percent of users remain bandwidth- constrained. Accommodating multiple user types accessing content over various connection speeds remains a challenge. One school of thought is to allow broadband users to opt-in to a richer, multimedia experience while dial-up users can elect a simpler, information-driven experience. Other site designers propose a “one-size-fits-all” model whose mainstream site navigation can be performed quickly and efficiently regardless of connection speed. In this hybrid model, high-bandwidth users may elect an optional, content-rich experience at various decision points. Regardless of which methodology is chosen to attract users, site designers should be careful not to alienate their audience by offering content biased towards one particular user class. Today’s relationship marketing specialists need to consider three classes of users: dial-up, broadband, and
  7. 7. :: 7 the emerging wireless community. In fact, it is likely that the more successful a brand site becomes, the more that users will use a mix of all three connection types to access content. Once the site’s design strategy is decided upon, the impact on the Web site infrastructure must be considered. Dial-up users tend to surf in and out quickly, executing simple queries on the site and then moving on. Broadband users may remain on a site for extended periods of time, sometimes even hours. Others may visit the site regularly throughout the day with idle periods in between. Several key issues need to be considered to ensure an optimal end user experience. Foremost among these concerns are performing under sustained load and managing an expanded content set. How effectively will the Web site respond to a sustained load, with the more demanding users accessing higher volumes of content over longer periods of time? The dynamics of fulfilling peak loads with short user cycles are fundamentally different than servicing a persistent user community with sustained loads. Application memory leaks, connection pool limitations, and network latency challenges that were not apparent under peak loads may bottleneck traffic under sustained loads. To optimize performance, the overall site architecture design may need to be revisited. One popular technique for optimizing the end-user experience involves distributing content between the edge of the network and centralized data centers. Many Web sites targeting broadband users stage static and dynamic content at the periphery of Internet closest to the end-users. Business logic and database queries are executed centrally to ensure transaction integrity. A real-world performance test offers the best insights into the dynamics of sustained broadband user load. Such tests can be designed to load the production system, a replica, or a scaled down version. In each scenario, volumes of end-user activity are simulated by mocking execution of the most popular navigation paths. Test results can be used to consolidate costly firewall rule sets, pinpoint network congestion points, or even restructure inefficient databases. The effort to re-think and re-optimize the technical architecture is the most time-consuming process in making the leap to broadband. However, such testing is certainly not the end of the process. An ongoing technique for measuring the effectiveness and performance of the Web site is critical. Service providers can measure performance of Web site download speed through 56Kbps, Cable Modem, and DSL connections in major metropolitan areas. Design Considerations for Broadband End User Community
  8. 8. empowers Hosting Empowers Business SM :: White Pap er 8 Broadband readiness often requires more user options and content. In most scenarios, the new content is more complex to create, to deliver, and to manage. Each line of source code results in a proportional increase in unexpected malfunctions, exploitable vulnerabilities, and system resource demands. As such, additional sophisticated content management tools and more robust testing procedures are needed. Furthermore, a greater need exists to have robust processes for migrating changes to the production environment. Many IT managers are considering a multi-stage change management process. Once new content and functionality is developed, it is migrated to a testing area. Source code is tested for functionality and security vulnerabilities. Content deployment plans are designed with contingency strategies to respond to unforeseen challenges. Many corporations are turning to service providers to function as a single point of entry for all production changes. These service providers can channel the efforts of multiple developers into a consistent, comprehensive release management process. Broadband for IT Managers Broadband offers a high-speed gateway for telecommuting employees to access corporate computing resources. Even office-based employees benefit from the ability to telecommute during unplanned absences such as inclement weather, extended illness, or family emergencies. Building a centralized portal to act as a Web-based gateway for your employees can increase productivity both in and out of the office. Tremendous ROI benefits can be achieved through Web-enabling your employee directory, as well as your time & attendance and expense reporting systems. Equally important are communication mechanisms such as Web-based e-mail access. Some corporations are investing in secure instant messaging (IM) services. These secure IM systems allow telecommuters to connect with their peers while working from home — without the added expense of long-distance toll rates. Broadband Telecommuter Architecture Clearly, broadband creates a new world of telecommuting opportunities with associated productivity benefits. However, these opportunities are not without technology, security, and procedural challenges. For starters, corporations must build hooks from legacy back office systems into Web-facing portal applications. Additional Web server infrastructure will need to be deployed to accommodate these new end-user requests. This new Web server layer will offer employees self-service applications, yet will also introduce security challenges into a previously, closed systems environment. Worms, malicious code, and
  9. 9. :: 9 blended threats can be used to exploit vulnerabilities at the Web layer. These Web server exploits can form a launching pad to access data-sensitive and mission-critical ERP systems. The security challenges are further compounded by the fact that many broadband users are accessing systems over unsecured desktops and anonymous ISP-connections. While personal firewall, virus protection, and intrusion monitoring software packages have become more popular among home users, few such users have the experience to configure policies or respond to security alarms. To make matters worse, only a small percentage of home users regularly patch their operating systems and desktop applications for vulnerabilities. An exploited home desktop could be used to access sensitive corporate log-ins or employer data stored on a local hard drive. Many corporations are responding to security risks by deploying their portal infrastructure into a demilitarized zone (DMZ) at a third party hosting facility. End-users access secure portals through token-based authentication over virtual private networks (VPNs). Web and application servers are deployed into a DMZ-zone while the ERP and CRM source systems stay within corporate data centers. The DMZ provides a layer of isolation and protection from the security vulnerabilities of the Web. Scalability is also a significant challenge in the broadband-enabled telecommuter environment. Suppose a natural disaster or winter blizzard handicapped a metropolitan area’s transportation network, requiring all or a substantial percentage of your workforce to stay home from work? Some corporate policies will mandate forced-vacation. Other employers may offer liberal leave. Most will offer the employees the opportunity to “work from home.” Productivity from home will be dictated by the ability to access corporate resources over the Web. However, even if all of your end-users are Web-enabled, your employee infrastructure may not be prepared for the demand surge. How many simultaneous VPN connections can your remote access infrastructure support? How many concurrent transactions can your portal’s underlying Web infrastructure support? Therefore, many corporations are turning to service providers that offer capacity-on-demand to resolve the scalability issues of employee portals. Broadband Telecommuter Architecture With Digex Services for Security and Scalability
  10. 10. empowers Hosting Empowers Business SM :: White Pap er 10 Broadband for Retailers For the traditionally dominant online retailers, broadband not only represents an opportunity, but also a challenge. In the past, the dial-up shopper had to contend with ISP billing that deterred online usage, unstable connections that were interrupt-driven, and download speeds that unnerved even the most patience browsers. A “good-enough” mentality persisted amongst many online buyers. If the desired product could be quickly and easily located at a mega-portal such as, AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! Shopping, it was often easier to purchase it immediately than to pursue a more comprehensive and painful search process. Large e-tailers benefited from end user concentration and strong brand equity. The broadband era threatens to change the dynamics of online shopping. The change represents an opportunity for new online merchants and new buying paradigms to compete for a larger share of the e-commerce market. Without the constraints of time-metered billing and 28.8Kbps download speeds, today’s online shopper has the time and resources to perform a comprehensive search for a specific product. Buyers can afford to compare prices and delivery timeframes from a wide variety of merchants. Moreover, with an always-on connection, the buyer has the ability to frequently check for price updates. As such, the always-on experience makes alternative shopping paradigms more convenient and cost-effective. The consumer-price setting model offered by and auction style bidding model offered by e-Bay both benefit from fickle consumers with the power to regularly review prices. The shifting dynamics of broadband shopping become even more powerful when you consider the tremendous growth in online sales over the past few years. In 2002, while overall retail sales were flat during the holiday season, online sales boasted increases of 10-50 percent. Even more impressive is the rise in online research followed by off-line purchasing. According a recent Forrester Research study, 51 percent of in-store purchases were influenced by prior Web-based analysis2. Increases of 50 percent are sure to result in praises for retailers, but undoubtedly will attract the close scrutiny of stockholders, executive management, and most significantly, your competing retailers. End User Experience & Behavior Dial-up Compared to Broadband
  11. 11. :: 1 1 Competition for search optimization, advertising placement, and Web site design is likely to increase significantly in the coming years. Whether the early Internet powerhouses, medium sized retailers or auction-style marketplaces emerge as the broadband commerce leaders, a few trends will change for certain — the most important of which is that the broadband user has heightened expectations for Web site performance, error handling, and information accuracy.One of the most challenging implications of broadband is that problems become more noticeable to the end- user. Whether planned or unplanned, network, hardware, and software outages all have a more pronounced effect on the browsing experience. Consider the scenario of a housewife searching for flowers to send on Mother’s Day. Imagine that an unplanned hardware failure occurs within the line-card of the switch that manages the Web site traffic. Even if the switch is backed-up by a redundant spare, the automated fail-over process can take up to 60 seconds. Most VLAN architectures require nearly a minute to detour traffic around a failed network node. In the narrowband world, a 60-second hiccup was not uncommon and would be dismissed as “the dial-up effect.” In the broadband world, 60 seconds can seem like an eternity, particularly for an end user who has invested 10-15 minutes in an online search. Why should a switch failure result in 60 seconds of unplanned down time? Surely today’s fiber optics and multi-Giga-Hertz processing speeds should allow for a more seamless transition. Service providers can help you avoid these types of unplanned outages by designing a more defensive and elegant network posture. The shared learning gained through helping clients manage network outages every day offers a unique perspective on best practices to avoid failure. Questions to consider include: • Should you cache these new content types at the edge of the network or should you centralize the content for ease-of-management? • How will these new “fat content” types impact performance at peak and sustained loads? • Will they be compatible with end user browsers and desktop software? • Or will plug-ins be required on older desktops? Service providers can offer quick and easy answers to these questions through advanced IT services such as compatibility, performance and functional testing.
  12. 12. empowers Hosting Empowers Business SM :: White Pap er 12 Another area of heightened sensitivity for broadband end-users is application errors. Whether the error occurs in the registration page, during the product search, or during the checkout process, ambiguous messages are often a deterrent and frustration for online shoppers. Whereas narrowband shoppers may have dismissed indecipherable errors as part of “the dial-up effect” and started over, broadband shoppers will not be as accommodating. The search for an alternative retailer is only seconds away. No amount of regression testing will completely eliminate application errors. Fortunately, a graceful error-handling experience can make the difference between alienating a one-time shopper and delighting a repeat-buyer. To delight and retain shoppers, site designers should consider solutions that capture application errors, assign severity levels, and react based upon pre-defined rule sets. For instance, suppose an error occurs during the checkout process on a basket of $200 worth of goods. An ungraceful error may result in a frustrated consumer who opts-out to another competing Web site, chooses to purchase at a convenient off-line channel, or elects to abandon the purchase altogether. On the other hand, a graceful error handling process would capture the user data and error source, record all relevant details in a database, and then notify a telesales representative to contact the consumer. This representative could place a phone call, send an e-mail, or initiate a chat session to help complete the sale. Many commerce site managers are turning to hosting companies that offer technology to track and facilitate graceful error handling. Service providers offer Web services that enable a level of communication and collaboration previously unheard of in application management. Real-time Error Routing Broadband is just the first phase in a series of end-user paradigm shifts. The coming decade will witness the transformation of Internet connectivity. Today’s connectivity model is a convenience, a feature accessed only at fixed network interfaces. In the next generation model, connectivity will be an inherent capability embedded in buildings, devices, and products around the world. The next phase will quickly eclipse terrestrial broadband in its impact and distribution: the emerging world of Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) connections. Powered by 802.11x standards, these Wi-Fi networks, expand broadband beyond the traditional tethered, wire-line boundaries of home
  13. 13. :: 1 3 and office. Wi-Fi will offer a ubiquitous broadband connection to mobile users within major metropolitan areas and popular travel corridors. The implications of Wi-Fi are even further reaching and more promising than the consumer broadband experience of today. We will watch with great anticipation as these newly evolving network paradigms transform technology and society as a whole. Digex for Broadband Readiness Digex offers a number of consultative and management oriented services to help you make the leap to broadband. We can perform a broadband readiness assessment that evaluates your current Web infrastructure and identifies areas for testing and re-evaluation. The consultation begins with recommendations on your technical architecture. Centralized vs. distributed content strategies are evaluated. We then provide distributed architecture solutions, which allow for placement of static and dynamic at the periphery of the network closest to the end-user. In addition, Digex can model the effects of changes to your technical architecture and traffic patterns through its application profiling service. Prior to deployment, we can perform a sustained load performance test to emulate a large scale of users executing transactions through popular navigation paths. Once you deploy your new strategy, Digex can measure performance of Web site download speed through 56Kbps, Cable Modem, and DSL connections in major metropolitan areas. Transaction monitoring is available for popular or critical end-user navigation paths and business functions. To help you manage the increased volume of content necessary for a successful broadband user experience, Digex offers several content management and deployment technologies with version control, rollback, and archiving capabilities. Corporations with more than ten Web sites may want to consider outsourcing release management to us. We can function as a single point of contact for all your developers by integrating content for packaged releases. Release management services including regression testing, content staging, and contingency planning. For retailers seeking to minimize lost sales opportunities, Digex offers its Application Notification Service, a multi-channel application error management Web service that offers event-level capture, logging, and routing of warnings, thresholds, and application errors. Digex Broadband Readiness Services
  14. 14. empowers Hosting Empowers Business SM :: White Pap er 14 About Digex Digex is a leading provider of enterprise hosting services. Since 1993, we have combined the security and best practices of traditional data centers with the agility and responsiveness required for successful Internet operations. Our clients, which include sixty-one Fortune 1000 businesses, depend on Digex every day to ensure the security, reliability, and performance of their corporate Web sites, mission-critical Web-based applications, and Web services. Digex maintains an extensive number of certifications for our operation processes and employee capabilities, including SAS70, ISO9001, and BS7799. In addition, we have an extensive network of partners, including leading system integrators, to provide our clients with empowering end-to-end business solutions. To find more information about Digex Enterprise Hosting visit To find more information about 'Digex in Retail' visit To find more information about 'Digex in CPG' visit To view interactive customer testimonials from leading retailers, such as J. Crew, visit
  15. 15. :: 1 5 References 1. Forrester Research – Three Tiers for Broadband – Consumer Technographics North America, October 2002 2. Forrester Research – Capturing Cross-Channel Dollars – Consumer Technographics North America, May 2002 About the Author Steve Keifer is Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at Digex. He has responsibility for initiating and executing strategic partnerships, corporate development and business planning efforts that result in substantial growth opportunities for Digex in its global markets. Prior to his role in Business Development, Steve served as director of product management managing the design and development of new products and services and overseeing the implementation of Digex's innovative, high-quality offerings. Prior to Digex, Steve was a consultant in the Communications and High Tech practice at Accenture. He worked on business and technical strategies for Verizon, BellSouth and Iridium. Steve has an Engineering degree from the University of Virginia.
  16. 16. D i g e x , I n c o r p o r a t e d : : O n e D i g e x P l a z a : : B e l t s v i l l e , M D 2 0 7 0 5 : : 8 8 8 . 8 8 . D I G E X : : w w w. d i g e x . c o m The information contained herein, including without limitation, prices and product descriptions, is subject to change without notice. Check with your Digex representative for availability. ©2003 Digex. All trademarks, tradenames and service marks mentioned and/or used herein belong to their respective owners.