1. The Impact of Consumer Broadband
on Internet Infrastructure
Ste ven M. Keifer
White Paper JULY 2003
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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
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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 dot.com 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
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 ESPN.com to get your team’s highlights becomes faster than waiting for
Sports Center’s game coverage. Clicking on moviefone.com 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.
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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
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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
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
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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
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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
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
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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
Amazon.com, 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 priceline.com and auction style
bidding model offered by e-Bay both benefit from fickle consumers with the power to regularly
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
End User Experience & Behavior Dial-up Compared to Broadband
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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.
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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
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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
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
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
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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 www.digex.com
To find more information about 'Digex in Retail' visit www.digex.com/industries/retail.asp
To find more information about 'Digex in CPG' visit www.digex.com/industries/cpg.asp
To view interactive customer testimonials from leading retailers, such as
J. Crew, visit www.digex.com/about/digexinmotion.asp
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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.