The Fragility Of Our Connected World

Editor’s note: Kyle York is the chief revenue officer at Dyn.

A decade ago, one would have never predicted the sheer size and impact the Internet has made on our planet. Now, with everything including government, healthcare, commerce and financial services brokered through connected devices, the stakes are much higher.

Within the past month alone, Internet connectivity made headlines in Cuba after the U.S. trade embargo was lifted, in North Korea as service was anonymously disrupted nationwide, and in China where access to Gmail was blocked. Forces like cyberterrorism, government corruption and lack of infrastructure resources threaten the fragile digital ties that connect our world.

We so often take this connectivity for granted in the U.S., where slow website load times lead us to abandon online shopping carts, or potentially walk away just to return to the Internet as we know it later that day. In light of recent news events, we’re left to wonder: What impact does global connectivity really have on our daily lives and the economy as a whole? What could happen if we’re left in the dark for too long?

War and the Internet

Both physical and cyber-warfare threatens global connectivity in specific ways. Physical degradation of undersea and land-based cables can prevent regions from getting Internet service. Government-ordered shutdowns, as we saw in Iraq during the summer of 2014, are another common occurrence in areas threatened by violence and terrorism. In some cases, social media services like Twitter and Facebook are being temporarily shuttered during times of unrest. Similarly, anonymous distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and cybersecurity breaches happen on a near-hourly basis, occasionally on a massive scale.

These large-scale outages can be prevented if we diversify the number of paths into and out of a country in any case possible. When latency or disruption occurs in an isolated area, it can be quickly identified and the traffic can be rerouted through an alternate path. Think about how Waze and Google Maps have helped identify heavy traffic locations, rerouting us to the next best option. The same is not only possible for the Internet but necessary.

In many developing regions, including large parts of the continent of Africa, mobile usage usurps physical Internet infrastructure, providing an alternate path to connectivity. But these paths are not immune to problems and could still suffer from large-scale attacks, so diversification remains key.

Commerce at global scale

Judging by the numbers alone, Internet infrastructure is a primary driver for retail economies worldwide. According to comScore, U.S. e-commerce sales during the 2014 holiday shopping season hit $53.3 billion on desktops alone, 15 percent higher than last year. This trend is true of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, as well.

In 2014, Wal-Mart pledged to invest between $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion on e-commerce and digital initiatives in fiscal year 2016. Markets like China are gaining on the U.S., with e-commerce projections reaching nearly $450 billion in 2014, with a growth rate of nearly 32.4 percent, per recent Alibaba statistics.

Even though the Internet creates feasibly unbridled connectivity between nations, each region has unique qualities and specifications for doing business. To prevent outages and blocks, companies need to understand local market drivers and conditions to reach across these boundaries and create a truly global marketplace.

For example, localized providers often have government affairs offices, special licenses or long-standing relationships that can help get a site up and running during times of an outage. Positioning and use of multiple data centers, as well as knowledge of specific local customs (for example, preferred methods of payment) are also critical to sustaining a successful commerce experience internationally.

Internet intelligence means Internet performance

We’re entering 2015 fully aware of the complexities of the Internet infrastructure the world has built over time, but with eyes open to new possibilities to reach across borders. Exciting emerging markets like Myanmar are getting a taste of a free-market Internet for the first time, with private foreign mobile operators fighting bidding wars to provide access to the region (winners must pledge to provide coverage for 90 percent of the country’s population).

A new class of Internet giants like Alibaba are emerging to compete with the likes of Amazon, creating greenfield opportunity for globally distributed commerce to become a reality. The promise of each new opportunity is more vast than the next.

The more informed we are about the inner workings of the Internet, the better we can be at connecting citizens to services, fueling global economies and building the free and open Internet we all want to see.