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Bradley Mitchell

Edge Caching vs. Net Neutrality Explained

By December 21, 2008

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In an apparent preview of the contentious discussion we should expect next year around net neutrality issues, Google's future plans for something called edge caching came under public scrutiny again last week.

Edge caching is a Internet / network load balancing and performance management technique that utilizes dedicated server resources on an Internet Service Provider (ISP) network. Using their awareness of network protocols, these servers essentially siphon off the network traffic of one application from the others and process that data specially to improve the performance end users of the target application can receive.

Corporate intranets, the operating system of your computer, and certain types of computer hardware all typically utilize basic caching techniques with good results. However, this idea of edge caching on the Internet is proving much more controversial. Why?

Skeptics view edge caching as a form of preferential treatment given to certain applications that could, long term, bias the free flow of information on the Internet towards the interests of specific corporations and away from net neutrality. In Google's case, YouTube is the prime example of an application where employing edge caching could substantially improve the network performance due to the huge traffic generated in watching online videos. The benefits to the ISP, Google and YouTube members - faster load times and more reliable real-time streaming - are clear.

Now consider in this example what happens if (hypothetically) an ISP designs their network infrastructure to depend on the availability of edge caching. As long as Google or some other party provides and maintains YouTube caching servers, YouTube members will be well served. Additional types of video content covered by other caching systems would also function well assuming the ISP chooses to support them. In the worst case, however, an ISP could (perhaps even unintentionally) greatly impact the ability of the public to access interesting alternative sources of Internet video depending on their architecture and policies around caching.

In the ongoing net neutrality debates, continue urging experts and policy makers on all sides to find the right balance between the needs of high performance networks with fair access to all Internet applications and services.

More - What Is Net Neutrality?
See also - Net Neutrality and the Benefits of Caching (google.com)
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