Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The most popular content on the web in the last two years

As I speak to people, I often ask what they think creates the most Internet traffic.  The answers are often illuminating, showing that usually we don't really know - like roads to where we want to go and electricity usage we just assume that it is there until there's a problem and don't worry so much about what is really happening and what generates traffic.

I have asked the question a lot in the last few weeks as I travelling around EMEA for the Blue Coat security roadshows, here's a few answers I got and then the actual answer to a specific question you can think about yourselves:

What generated the two highest peaks of traffic in London in the last two years.

Some people have commented on the type of traffic, the applications and protocols.  This has been well-documented already, my favourite image for this is over a year old, but still valuable - the graphic from Wired magazine showing traffic patterns over the last few years, clearly streaming is number one and growing fastest.

So, let's ignore protocols and applications, but what events or activities have actually generated the most traffic?  The incorrect answers I can remember are:

1. The wedding of prince William and Kate Middleton
2. The Arab Spring
3. The Japanese earthquake and tsnami
4. The death of Michael Jackson
5. The death of Obama Bin Laden

Each of the above were major news items and some generated quite a lot of web trafic, especially a lot of video traffic - but as major traffic generators they are eclipsed by two other events.  Perhaps the wedding would have generated more, but as Great Britain has a national holiday so those that wanted to watch it live were watching on TV and not across the web.

So, have you thought yet?  The type of material probably is large, very popular (and not just to news junkies) and probably time-critical.  Let me help you with a graphic from LONAP that gives you a couple of clues.

Firstly, what is LONAP?  LONAP is a Layer-2 Internet Peering Point in London owned and run by over 100 ISPs - it usually peaks at around 20Gbps and the daily and weekly (MRTG) traffic graph sits here:

This clearly shows the usual pattern of traffic, showing the days busier than the evenings and weekends quiters than during the week.  (I remember when evenings and weekends were the busiest, showing how important the Internet is to businesses, but perhaps that's all very obvious).

Anyway, these graphs are constantly updated, so this one I can going to paste in, from the page that goes a bit further back - now does this help you answer my question?:

The Answer to My Question

This gaph starts from the end of April 2010 and you can see three peaks - The largest is at the end of June 2010, the second largest in mid-October 2011 and a smaller one just at the beginning of December 2010.

So - June 2010.  This was the 2010 Football World Cup, the contest took place in South Africa and some of the matches were during the working day in the UK.  As you've seen from my previous posts, there were some network problems in individual organisations, though the Internet itself coped admirably.  No surprise really, major sporting events always drive a lot of traffic - the fans want the immediacy of the game, there's much less point in watching it after you have heard the result.

Perhaps October 2011 is more difficult to explain, though it is more recent.  Was there a major sporting event?  News?  Music?  er .....

Someone said the death of Steve Jobs.  No - terrible news of course and it generated lots of traffic, lots of news stories, but actually Steve had a hand in the traffic a few days later.

Yes, the launch of iOS5.  On October 12th, every iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that connected to the Internet offered the user a download of iOS5.  There was also a new version of iTunes for iOS, Lion and PCs and most other iOS applications had a new version too.  Huge amounts of traffic were generated over a short period of time - after probably 48 hours most devices/applications had been updated and the traffic patterns returned to normal.

So, something to think about.... 

Traffic is often generated by time-critical happenings, some we can plan for (the next great sporting event), some we won't kow about (Apple, Microsoft, Adobe updates), some are completely unplanned (death of a celebrity, weather, disasters).  In addition, some are global (iOS), some are local (World Cup traffic highest in countries taking part, of course) and some may be particular to your business (CEO announcement, competitor, new product/training videos).

From a technical/network point of view - are you ready for these sorts of peaks, how much headroom do you have and are you implementing technologies such as WAN optimisation to improve your total throughput?

Meanwhile, I have one more question.... What happened at the beginning of December 2010 that caused huge amounts of Internet traffic in London?  Was it everyone watching the weather forecasts and updating each other on #UKSnow on Twitter or did something else happen that I have forgotten?

Let me know what you think.