May 27, 2016
Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives – so much, that often we tend to forget the inner workings of these technological marvels, like the background technologies that work round-the-clock in order to help us enjoy our digital applications and services.
This article is a peek behind the curtain to gain a glimpse at some of the most important behind-the-scenes technologies that are often not obvious or known.
Domain Name System (DNS) servers are, essentially, the phonebooks of the Internet. When you visit a website, the browser looks up the DNS address of the target website to determine where the data is physically located, thus making access straightforward. You can type in google.com, for example, and the DNS server looks up the corresponding IP address.
Without a DNS server you would have to memorize the IP address of every website you visit, which is virtually impossible. Besides, data is sometimes stored on different physical servers, and actual locations can be dynamic (more on this later). Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) automatically assigns a DNS server, although you can manually point your device toward popular alternatives like OpenDNS or Google's Public DNS.
Load balancing is a method of distributing network or application traffic and loading across multiple servers – thus ensuring reliability, and reducing the likelihood of downtime. If the service relies on just one server and that server becomes overwhelmed with traffic or suffers an outage, the service essentially goes offline.
Load balancing prevents this by keeping track of the load and then distributing it evenly across multiple servers. This helps in ensuring that the service remains up and the servers quickly respond to user requests. As a user, this means that you are able to access a given online service at all times regardless of the overall volume of user traffic.
Many modern load balancing services are moving into the cloud, mostly to eliminate the need to purchase dedicated load-balancing hardware appliances. These cloud-based solutions also have the advantage of not being TTL reliant. This allows them to effectively destitute loads across multiple data centers and instantly activate backup servers in failover scenarios.
Anycast is a network routing methodology that enables routing of data from a single sender to the topologically-nearest node of receivers, all identified by the same IP prefix. This improves load times, times, connectivity and overall responsiveness.
It serves as a fundamental addressing methodology behind technologies like content delivery networks (CDNs), DNS servers, and IPv6 transitioning, particularly in establishing HTTP connections to distribution centers. Anycast also provides a way to easily manage and scale a horizontally-distributed infrastructure and improves availability by providing a number of redundant connection options, offering routers a way of simply skipping over an unavailable server.
Server Cooling Systems
The sheer amount of data we produce and consume has grown into mammoth proportions, necessitating more and more data centers. Such facilities have now become a veritable industry in their own right. And a key problem with establishing data centers is handling the cooling costs.
A large data center typically houses hundreds of machines, which produce a huge heat footprint and have to be cooled in real-time. This has propelled the use of many innovative server cooling technologies. Most notably, hosting companies are finding out that liquids offer better cooling capabilities, and this has led to the use of cooling fluids such as Novec and in some cases, directly deploying a data center under seawater to cool down sealed servers. The key challenge here is to find a balance between optimal operation and environmental friendliness.
While it's easy to take worldwide inter-connectivity for granted, all this is made possible by the submarine cables that lay on seabeds around the world, enabling inter-continental communication and forming the backbone of the Internet's infrastructure. The Internet as we know it would be impossible without submarine cables. To understand just how extensive these webs of cables are, check out this Submarine Cable Map.
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