Okay, so we all know some little slice or another of the Internet. But how do all these slices really fit together? How does each player in the system make money by getting your device to connect to someone else’s server to grab content (whether or not you just asked for it)? Let’s put it all together in a multi-part, whiz-bang, really big show… Or rather a series of blog posts called HTIRW, or rather, “How the Internet Really Works.”
To begin, we’ll use this image throughout. Yes, you need to look at it.
If you click on the little image, you should get a bigger version (If you want it in PDF, click here).
As you can tell from this image, the ‘net really isn’t a single “thing.” Rather, it’s a bunch of different ‘things’ all connected together. We used to say the Internet was a “network of networks,” but that’s actually a little bit simplistic now-a-days. The networks connected together to make the ‘net have become much more specialized over the years, and an entire ecosystem has grown up around those networks and their interconnections.
The Internet Ecosystem (I would use IE here, but it probably has unpleasant overtones for some folks — though I did just switch to Opera from Firefox as my primary web browser) primarily consist of four groups of people. Let’s look at these rather broadly; we’ll drill down into these groups more deeply in future installments.
The first group is, of course, the providers — or perhaps we should call these folks network operators, as they actually run the real live networks over which the bits making up this blog post travel. This group is actually made up of several rather specialized network operators, from transit providers to edge providers, to content providers. The second group is the government and nongovernment organizations that support the operation of the ‘net through regulations and by playing other roles in its ongoing development. This might be called the world of Internet Governance. The third group is the organizations that build the standards and software on which the Internet runs, from vendors to standards bodies (like the IETF). Finally, you have operators groups and the world surrounding their operations.
This is, of course, a rough division of labor; as we work through what each type of organization does, we’re going to find most of these folks have more than one hat, or perhaps their feet in more than one camp. Our primary concern will be the way these different organizations are built, how they make money (if they do), and how they interact with all the other organizations that hold or manage other, different, pieces of the Internet. We’ll talk about some of the different pieces of technology, of course, but I’ll try to keep the technical chatter to just what’s needed to really understand the parts and pieces. If specific questions come up, I’ll be glad to dive into different areas of technology as needed.
Hopefully, but the time we get through this series, you’ll be able to understand how the Internet really works — even if I can’t think up a good series name.