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Considerations on Internet Consolidation and the Internet Architecture

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft whose latest revision state is "Expired".
Authors Jari Arkko , Brian Trammell , Mark Nottingham , Christian Huitema , Martin Thomson , Jeff Tantsura
Last updated 2018-10-22
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Internet Engineering Task Force                                 J. Arkko
Internet-Draft                                                  Ericsson
Intended status: Informational                               B. Trammell
Expires: April 26, 2019                                       ETH Zurich
                                                           M. Nottingham

                                                              C. Huitema
                                                    Private Octopus Inc.
                                                              M. Thomson
                                                             J. Tantsura
                                                          Nuage Networks
                                                        October 23, 2018

 Considerations on Internet Consolidation and the Internet Architecture


   Many of us have held a vision of the Internet as the ultimate
   distributed platform that allows communication, the provision of
   services, and competition from any corner of the world.  But as the
   Internet has matured, it seems to also feed the creation of large,
   centralised entities in many areas.  This phenomenon could be looked
   at from many different angles, but this memo considers the topic from
   the perspective of how available technology and Internet architecture
   drives different market directions.

Status of This Memo

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 26, 2019.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Consolidation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.1.  Economics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.2.  Data- and Capital-intensive Services  . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.3.  Permissionless Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.4.  Fundamentals of Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.5.  Technology Factors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  Action  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  Contributors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   5.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   6.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8

1.  Introduction

   Many of us have held a vision of the Internet as the ultimate
   distributed platform that allows communication, the provision of
   services, and competition from any corner of the world.  But as the
   Internet has matured, it seems to also feed the creation of large,
   centralised entities in many areas.

   Is Internet traffic consolidating, i.e., moving towards a larger
   fraction of traffic involving a small set of large content providers
   or social networks?  It certainly appears so, though more
   quantitative research on this topic would be welcome.

   This phenomenon could be looked at from many different angles, but
   this memo considers the topic from the perspective of how available
   technology and Internet architecture drives different market
   directions.  How are technology choices and fundamentals of
   communication affecting some of these trends?

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   Our engineering remit is to focus on technology, but of course we
   also want to understand the implications and externalities of the
   technical arrangements we design.  Technology affects economics and
   vice versa.  The Internet technology community continues to make
   decisions that have ramifications on Internet systems, just as we are
   subject to forces that affect them.

   As technologists, one question we have is whether there are changes
   in technology that would help reduce technically-driven large-player

   This memo reviews areas where consolidation may be occurring in the
   Internet, and discusses the potential reasons for this.  Section 2
   discusses consolidation and the reasons behind the creation of larger
   entities, and Section 3 looks at some actions that might alleviate
   the situation.

   Note: If you are interested on this or other architecture-related
   topics, please subscribe to the IAB architecture-discuss mailing list
   as one forum for discussion.

2.  Consolidation

   Consolidation is driven by economic factors relating to scale and
   ability to reach a large market over the Internet.  In general, an
   efficient market such as the Internet tends to enable winners to take
   large market shares.

   The most visible aspects of this involve well-recognised Internet
   services, but it is important to recognise that the Internet is a
   complex ecosystem.  There are many underlying services whose
   diversity, or lack thereof, are as important as that of, say,
   consumer-visible social networks.  For instance, the diversity of
   cloud services, operating systems, browser engines is as important as
   that as of application stores or the browsers themselves.

   Of course, the Internet allows plenty of choice both in these and
   other areas.  Too many or too few choices create different kinds of

   It would be useful to break these general factors and observations
   down a bit further.  In particular, it is useful to distinguish
   market or economic factors from technical factors.

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2.1.  Economics

   Scaling benefits are natural for many types of businesses.  And many
   Internet-based businesses can potentially serve a very large customer
   base, as the cost of replicating and delivering their service to new
   customers or areas is small.

   However, typically the network effect has an even more pronounced
   impact.  Each additional user adds to the value of the network for
   all users in a network.  In some applications, such as the open web,
   this value grows for everyone, as the web is a globally connected,
   interoperable service for anyone with a browser can use.

   There is an important distinction between different applications of
   the network effect, however.  Consider email as another example;
   anyone with an account at any email server can use it globally.
   However, here we have seen much more consolidation into few large
   email providers, both due to innovative, high-quality services but
   also because running email services by small entities is becoming
   difficult; among other things due to spam prevention practices that
   tend to recognise well only the largest entities.

   In some other applications, such as social media, the services have a
   more closed nature.  The value of being a customer of one social
   media service depends highly on how many other customers that
   particular service has.  Hence, the larger the service, the more
   valuable it is.  And the bigger the value difference to the
   customers, the less practical choice they have in selecting a

   In some cases, these developments also allow asymmetric relationships
   to form, with the customers having less ability to affect the service
   than they would perhaps wish.

2.2.  Data- and Capital-intensive Services

   The scaling advantages are only getting larger with the advent of AI-
   and machine learning -based technologies.

   The more users a service has, the more data is available for training
   machine learning models, and the better the service becomes, bringing
   again more users.  This feedback loop and the general capital-
   intensive nature of the technology (data and processing at scale)
   makes it likely that the largest companies are ahead in the use of
   these technologies.

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2.3.  Permissionless Innovation

   The email vs. social media example also highlights the interesting
   roles of interoperability and the "permissionless innovation"
   principle -- the idea that a network can be simple but still powerful
   enough that essentially any application could be built on top of it
   without needing any special support from anyone else.  Permissionless
   innovation has brought us all the innovative applications that we
   enjoy today, on top of a highly interoperable underlying network,
   along with advances in video coding and other techniques used by

   Paradoxically, if the underlying network is sufficiently powerful,
   the applications on top can evolve without similar pressures for
   interoperability, leading to the closed but highly valuable services
   discussed above.  We call this the Permissionless Completeness

2.4.  Fundamentals of Communication

   There are also fundamental issues.  For instance, speed of light;
   low-latency services can fundamentally only be provided through
   globally distributed data centers.  These are often provided built by
   large organisations, although collaborative and data center or cloud
   computing service approaches also exist.

   A similar issue has arisen in recent years around large-scale denial-
   of-service attacks, and how various entities can deal with them.
   While the largest attacks affect all players (see, for instance, the
   Dyn attacks in October 2016), it is also true that large cloud- and
   content delivery providers can better deal with such attacks due to
   their scale.  This is one reason that attracts many network services
   to such providers.

2.5.  Technology Factors

   One of the key questions is whether we are seeing developments that
   are driven by economic factors or whether fundamental reasons or lack
   available technology drives particular models.  For instance,
   centralised solutions might desirable due to business incentives, or
   they might be necessary because there is no distributed,
   collaborative solution.

   For instance, some technical issues have historically not been easy
   to solve, such as e-mail spam, which has lead to reliance on non-
   technical solutions.  Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to
   run your own mail services, essentially forcing many organisations
   and individuals to employ larger providers.  The issues relate

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   directly to size of entities; no one can afford to disconnect from
   the largest providers.  But as a small entity, there is little
   leverage to convince peer entities or various supporting white/
   blacklist entities to deal with you properly.

   Many Internet services are based on gathering data about users, and
   using that data for, for instance, targeted advertisements.  More
   data from more users makes it possible to run a service more
   accurately or with better results; here again scale brings

   Another trend is that more and more content is becoming available
   locally, from a content delivery or provider function directly on
   your own ISP's network.  We predict that eventually most content will
   be delivered this way, reducing the role that global IP connections
   across the Internet play.  By some metrics this has already happened;
   what practical - positive or negative - impacts might this have on
   the Internet technology?

   There are also security tradeoffs.  Large entities are generally
   better equipped to move to more recent and more secure technology.
   For instance, the Domain Name System (DNS) shows signs of ageing but
   due to the legacy of deployed systems, has changed very slowly.
   Newer technology developed at the IETF enables DNS queries to be
   performed confidentially, but its deployment is happening mostly in
   browsers that use global DNS resolver services, such as Cloudflare's or Google's  This results in faster evolution and
   better security for end users.

   However, if one steps back and considers the overall security effects
   of these developments, the resulting effects can be different.  While
   the security of the actual protocol exchanges improves with the
   introduction of this new technology, at the same time this implies a
   move from using a worldwide distributed set of DNS resolvers into,
   again, more centralised global resolvers.  While these resolvers are
   very well maintained (and a great service), they are potentially
   high-value targets for pervasive monitoring and Denial-of-Service
   (DoS) attacks.  In 2016, for example, DoS attacks were launched
   against Dyn, one of the largest DNS providers, leading to some

3.  Action

   Are there assumptions about the Internet architecture that no longer
   hold in a world where larger, more centralised entities provide big
   parts of the Internet service?  If the world changes, the Internet
   and its technology/architecture may have to match those changes.

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   It appears that level the playing field for new entrants or small
   players brings potential benefits.  Are there technical solutions
   that are missing today?

   Of course, it may well be that technology improvements are hard to
   come by.  Nevertheless, recognising the risks of consolidation in
   both current and proposed future technologies is the first step in
   proactively avoiding those risks where possible.

   Assuming that one does not wish for regulation, technologies that
   support distributed architectures, open source implementations of
   currently centralised network functions, or help increase user's
   control can be beneficial.  Federation, for example, would help
   enable distributed services in situations where smaller entities
   would like to collaborate.

   Similarly, in an asymmetric power balance between users and services,
   tools that enable the user to control what information is provided to
   a particular service can be very helpful.  Some such tools exist, for
   instance, in the privacy and tracking-prevention modes of popular
   browsers but why are these modes not the default, and could we
   develop them further?

   It is also surprising that in the age of software-defined everything,
   we can program almost anything else except the globally provided,
   packaged services.  Opening up interfaces would allow the building of
   additional, innovative services, and better match with users' needs.

   Silver bullets are rare, of course.  Internet service markets
   sometimes fragment rather than cooperate through federation.  And the
   asymmetric power balances are easiest changed with data that is in
   your control, but it is much harder to change when someone else holds
   it.  Nevertheless, the exploration of solutions to ensure the
   Internet is kept open for new innovations and in the control of users
   is very important.

   What IETF topics that should be pursued to address some of the issues
   around consolidation?

   What measurements relating to the developments centralization or
   consolidation should be pursued?

   What research -- such as distributed Internet architectures -- should
   be driven forward?

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4.  Contributors

   Much of the text in this memo is from a blog article written by Jari
   Arkko, Mark Nottingham, Christian Huitema, Martin Thomson, and Brian
   Trammell for the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and from a blog
   article written by Jari Arkko and Brian Trammell APNIC and RIPE.

5.  Acknowledgements

   The authors would like to thank IAB members, Geoff Huston, Gonzalo
   Camarillo, Mirjam Kuehne, Robert Mitchell, Olaf Kolkman, and many
   others for interesting discussions in this problem space.

6.  Informative References

   [RFC1958]  Carpenter, B., Ed., "Architectural Principles of the
              Internet", RFC 1958, DOI 10.17487/RFC1958, June 1996,

Authors' Addresses

   Jari Arkko
   Kauniainen  02700


   Brian Trammell
   ETH Zurich


   Mark Nottingham


   Christian Huitema
   Private Octopus Inc.


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   Martin Thomson


   Jeff Tantsura
   Nuage Networks


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