9.5 Broader Perspective
The Cloud is the New Internet
As we saw at the end of Section 9.1, there has been a migration of traditional Internet applications like email and web servers from machines running on-premises to VMs running in commodity clouds. This corresponds to a shift in terminology (from “Web Services” to “Cloud Services”) and in many of the underlying technologies being used (from Virtual Machines to Cloud Native micro-services). But the Cloud’s impact on how network applications are implemented today is even bigger than this migration suggests. It is the combination of commodity clouds and overlay networks (similar to those described in Section 9.4) that may eventually have the most impact.
The biggest thing an overlay-based application needs to be effective is a wide footprint, that is, many points-of-presence around the world. IP routers are widely deployed, so if you have permission to use a set of them as the underlying nodes in your overlay network, then you’re good-to-go. But that’s not going to happen, as there are exactly zero network operators or enterprise administrators that are willing to let random people load overlay software onto their routers.
Your next choice might be to crowdsource hosting sites for your overlay software. Depending on the kindness of strangers works if you all share a common goal, like downloading free music, but it’s difficult for a new overlay application to go viral, and even if it does, making sure there is sufficient capacity at any given time to carry all the traffic your application generates is often problematic. It sometimes works for free services, but not any application you might hope to monetize.
If only there were a way to pay someone for the right to load and run your software on servers spread all over the world. Of course, that’s exactly what commodity clouds like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and the Google Cloud Platform provide. To many, the cloud offers a seemingly unlimited number of servers, but it’s actually just as important—if not more important—where these servers are located. As we discussed at the end of Chapter 4), they are widely distributed across 150+ well-connected sites.
Suppose, for example, that you want to stream a collection of live video or audio channels to millions of users, or you want to support thousands of video conferencing sessions, each of which connects a dozen widely distributed participants. In both cases, you construct an overlay multicast tree (one per video channel in the first example, and one per conference session in the second example), with the overlay nodes in the tree located at some combination of those 150 cloud sites. Then you allow the end-users, from their general-purpose web browsers or purpose-built smartphone apps, connect to the multicast tree(s) of their choice. If you need to store some of the video/audio content to play at a later time (e.g., to support time shifting) then you might also buy some storage capacity at some or all of those cloud sites, effectively building your own Content Distribution Network.
Taking the long view, while the Internet was originally conceived as a pure communication service, with arbitrary compute-and-storage applications allowed to flourish around the edges, today application software is for all practical purposes embedded within the network, and it is increasingly difficult to tell where the Internet stops and the Cloud starts. This blending will only continue to deepen as the cloud moves closer and closer to the edge (e.g., to thousands of sites where access networks are anchored) and the economies-of-scale drive the hardware devices used to build Internet/Cloud sites increasingly towards commonality.
To remind yourself of why the cloudification of the Internet is important, see Feature Velocity.