Measuring the Core

This last week I was a guest on the TechSequences podcast with Leslie and Alexa discussing the centralization of the routed infrastructure in the ‘net. When that episode posts, I’ll cross post it here (but, of course, you should really just subscribe to their podcast, as they always have interesting guests—I’ll have Leslie and Alexa on the Hedge at some point, as well). The topic is related to this post on CircleID about the death of transit, which was a reaction to Geoff Huston’s article on the death of transit some time before.

All that to say… while reading through some research papers this week, I ran into a recent (2018) paper where Carisimo et al. try out different ways of measuring which autonomous systems belong to the “core” of the ‘net. They went about this by taking a set of AS’ “everyone” acknowledges to be “part of the core,” and then trying to find some measurement that successfully describes something all of them have in common.

The result is the k-metric, which measures the connectivity of an AS’ peers. If an AS has peers who are just as connected as they are, then k-metric is high. Otherwise, the k-metric is low. It does make sense this measure would be able to pick out “core” AS’, because it picks out the set of most highly interconnected AS’ in the ‘net.

Once they determined the k-metric is a good way to determine which AS’ are in the core of the ‘net, they calculated the membership of the core over time. Their graph is below.

The way the chart is laid out is a little difficult to see, but the green is transit providers and the blue is content providers. Certainly enough, the percentage of content providers in the core of the ‘net, in terms of sheer connectivity, has increased over time. These same content providers now account for some 80% (or more?) of the traffic on the ‘net. All this means is the centralization of content is visible in objective measurements, so its a real thing. Content providers are currently “only” 20% of the core but given their traffic levels this is a much bigger deal than it seems. There are many parts of the world where the population or access density is not high enough for large content providers to justify building out so they touch the last mile. If communities build out last mile optical networks, however, its likely these large content providers will consume ever-larger percentages of the “core” AS’.