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Copyright 2009 by EasyCo LLC

We deliver 99.9%
practical connectivity
rather than the 97%
delivered by others

Server connection reliability is not the same thing as end-to-end connection reliability. Many hosters will proudly tout their BGP, BGP2, or BGP4 routing for enhanced Internet connectivity reliability. In fact, a properly managed BGP service will give a server site connection reliability that exceeds 99.99%. But the problem with BGP is that there is always only one pathway to a web site at any given time. And if anything along the multi-thousand mile route "breaks" there is nothing that either the server or the client can do to get around the problem.

The Internet breaks, regularly!

When you make a connection to a web site, chances are that you will pass through 20 to 30 routers. You will frequently also pass through thousands of miles of optical fiber, with all of its signal amplifiers and segments that can be assaulted by backhoes. Finally, there are times when pieces of the Internet get congested, and some or all of your data just never gets through. The Internet, overall, does a pretty good job of routing around these problems. The BGP routing system generally finds breakage and posts alternate routes in 15 to 20 minutes. But during the interval, those users affected still cannot connect. While there will be some routes that are never broken, in our experience about 3 percent of the time someone tries to make a connection to a particular web site, they will be unable to connect or stay connected for the entire session due to some form of route failure or congestion.

3% non-connectivity does not sound like a lot, but ... it represents about 11 calendar days out of a year. More important is that this is the average. Because of regional problems, some people will have much longer periods. For instance, we have seen some people lose their connectivity to a specific point for 40% of the business hours for four weeks, until a third party fixed an intermediate router problem.

BGP fixes last mile breakage,
but it does not fix intermediate breakage

BGP as used by hosting service providers delivers two things to the provider. The first is rapid cutover to alternate carriers if their last mile to an individual Internet carrier is cut. The second of these is load-balancing to make more efficient use of bandwidth. While BGP almost instantly restores local service for the Internet provider, neither they nor the client at the other end can do anything to get around the problem because neither knows where the problem is. Both must wait for the Internet to self-heal through the advertising of a new route.

MultiPathing fixes all but first mile breakage

All modern browsers have the ability to go to a named website via multiple paths if the web site advertises multiple paths. Browsers arbitrarily choose one, try it, and then try each item in the list sequentially if there is no response from the prior route in about 30 seconds.

When these alternate destinations have different Internet carriers (UUnet, AT+T, and Sprint are carriers) the routes normally diverge from each other within a few router hops from the user's browser. Thus, the only common point of failure is the first couple of hops, which is normally the responsibility of the user's ISP. After divergence, there must be simultaneous failure on all routes for connection to be impossible.

The Interstate highway analogy

The best way to understand the difference between BGP and MultiPathing is to think of traveling on the Interstate from Washington DC to Los Angeles.

In BGP, at any given time, the driver might only be permitted to drive via I-70/I-15. If there is an accident in Columbus, they will never get to the destination, because there is only one path, and divergence is not permitted until the Internet advertises a new satisfactory route.

Conversely, in MultiPath, the driver has two routes, perhaps I-70/I-15 and I-95/I-10. If they cannot get through on the first, they get to try to try the second route a few seconds later. All they need to be able to do to get through is to get to the Beltway where both start.

The mirrored variant of MultiPathing

If someone in Washington DC has a choice between going to Miami or going to Boston for their data, they intrinsically have MultiPath capabilities, because most of the route is not in common, and the endpoints are not in common. Mirrored solutions are the most reliable for most web sites because they have nothing in common with each other, and thus no practical common points of failure. This is the best solution for static content because the the data being delivered changes only occasionally. We use the mirrored variant of MultiPathing in our mirrored basic web service product.

True MultiPathing for dynamic systems

When web sites are actually collecting data from customers and prospects, rather than just giving the customers data, the data ultimately needs to go back to one logical system. If you try to go to two or more simultaneously, you end up with two data sets, and possibly the problem of someone starting on one server and being unable to complete on another (due to Internet path failure). Logically, therefore, most dynamic databases need to be on a single server.

For such situations, we offer true MultiPathing, multiple routes, on multiple carriers, all pointing at the same machine to deliver connectivity that is as reliable as the machine itself ... something in excess of 99.9%. We offer two variants of this MultiPath connectivity. The first, and less expensive, solution is to proxy through two different servers in the same facility. This can be used to provide standard services such as web and SSH. The more expensive variant is direct connect, giving your virtual or physical machine two (or more) IP numbers on two discrete backbones. This service is necessary if you want MultiPath SSL with your own cert, or other specialized services.

Why 3 percent failure matters to you

Three percent matters to you because use of the Internet is so low cost relative to the value it produces. EasyCo, for instance, will deliver 20,000 typical web pages for just one dollar. Because costs are so low, a typical e-tailer will have standard web hosting bills that amount to about 1/10 of a percent of sales.

The costs of doing business are not in the hosting service, but in the costs of people to prepare the materials, prepare the programs that deliver it, process the orders, and keep the computer equipment that manages it all alive. Losing 3 percent of sales in the face of these high, and generally fixed costs, has a major impact on the bottom line. Reliability matters not because of the intrinsic waste of bits that never get delivered, but because of the massive economic loss that is a consequence of non-delivery.

Why don't more providers offer MultiPathing?

To be honest, we only offer MultiPathing because our business started in database hosting, where reliable connectivity is absolutely needed for reliable service. In database hosting, people must remain connected all day long, or even (in some cases) 24x7. We could not afford to have a company with 100 employees totally out of business for 20 to 30 minutes at a time due to a BGP route failure. MultiPathing gives us the ability to transparently reconnect on a line failure, with "real" down time a virtually unnoticeable 30 seconds.

This said, MultiPathing is not a simple engineering project because there are some complex interrelationship issues. Most hosters therefore buy the off the shelf stuff, and presume you will be content with "pretty good" rather than the best possible.