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The Internet: "All for One and One for All"

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The Internet handles every transaction or request you'll make today, tomorrow and the next day, along with the online requests of billions of other Internet users around the world. With incredible consistency and seemingly without fail, it takes care of our emails, Google searches, credit card payments and social media posts, and it gives us sports score updates, stock market trends and more.

The Internet never breaks, never stops and is always there (unless you don't pay your bill!). And as enormous as it gets, it always manages to handle the volume that's requested of it. The research software company Domo put together a report about what transpires on the Internet every minute:

  • Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content.
  • Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.
  • Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.
  • YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.
  • Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.
  • Email users send over 200 million messages.

The Internet is worth getting to know a little better.

Before-and-after pictures.

The network that was the foundation of today's Internet was called ARPAnet and it provided direct connections for only a select number of designation institutions and organizations. Over time, that network evolved and was even renamed (NAFNET) and grew in scope and reach; however, it still primarily served universities and research institutions, mostly government-based ones.

But that network was too functional and valuable to keep limited to a few groups. It was centralized and rigid, essentially a network "backbone" that provided direct connections for a handful of special networks. It seemed destined to be the people's, if not the world's, network.

In the mid-1990s, the Internet as we know it today started to take shape—a coming together and connecting of a massive number of large private networks that provide access to one another.

Bringing the Internet to tiers.

To help make greater and more logical connectivity possible, the Internet evolved into three tiers, comprised of private and public networks that provide defined functions for specific groups of people:

  • Tier 1 networks are operated by large telecommunication companies such as Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and others. They agree to share and provide free transmission of data among each other's networks—referred to as a "peering arrangement"—and provide the scope and reach that help make the Internet global.
  • Tier 2 networks are linked to Tier 1 networks functionally and operationally. They may lease access to a Tier 1 network, but they might also have a peering arrangement with other Tier 2 networks. They generate revenue (make money) by leasing Internet access to the third tier of Internet networks.
  • Tier 3 networks are the type most people are familiar with—because most ISP (Internet Service Providers) are part of the third tier. Tier 3 networks sell Internet access to individual homes and businesses, connections they lease through Tier 2 networks through a point-of-presence (POP) connection.

Where it all comes together.

The various tiered networks intersect at digital junctions called Internet Exchange Points, or IXPs. One of the biggest IXPs, for example, is in the city of San Jose, California. It is known as Metropolitan Area Exchange, West...or MAE West (not to be confused with the famous actress). Another major exchange is on the east coast of the U.S., in Washington, D.C.—MAE East. Many networks can connect at one IXP, which itself can be a local network that serves as an interface between the member networks.

It's there, but it isn't there.

The Internet is very real and part of our everyday lives, and yet it doesn't exist as a single location or place. In essence, it is "the cloud of all clouds" when it comes to digital communications. The fact that you can jump on the Internet—the same Internet, whether you're in California or Florida, China or Mexico—means that it's everywhere simultaneously.

What is it that holds it all together so that it behaves as a cohesive network, as if it were a single entity? It comes down to three key factors:

  • It adheres to a common set of regulations that define and guide it.
  • A group of recognized organizations worldwide work together to manage and monitor it.
  • It speaks a universal technological language, known as TCP/IP.

Without that foundation, it would quickly become chaotic, fragmented and unreliable.

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