Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute

December 2, 2011

You've probably heard a lot about SoftLayer's global expansion into Asia and Europe, and while the idea of geographically diversifying is impressive in itself, one of the most significant implications of our international expansion is what it's done for the SoftLayer Network.

As George explained in "Globalization and Hosting: The World Wide Web is Flat," our strategic objective is to get a network point of presence within 40ms of all of our users and our users' users to provide the best network stability and performance possible anywhere on the planet. The reasoning is simple: The sooner a user gets on on our network, the quicker we can efficiently route them through our points of presence to a server in one of our data centers.

The cynics in the audience are probably yawning and shrugging that idea off as marketing mumbo jumbo, so I thought it would be good to demonstrate how the network expansion immediately and measurably improved our customers' network experience from Asia to the United States. Just look at the traceroutes.

As you're probably aware, a traceroute shows the "hops" or routers along the network path from an origin IP to a destination IP. When we were building out the Singapore data center (before the network points of presence were turned up in Asia), I ran a traceroute from Singapore to SoftLayer.com, and immediately after the launch of the data center, I ran another one:

Pre-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  10.151.60.1 (10.151.60.1)  1.884 ms  1.089 ms  1.569 ms
 2  10.151.50.11 (10.151.50.11)  2.006 ms  1.669 ms  1.753 ms
 3  119.75.13.65 (119.75.13.65)  3.380 ms  3.388 ms  4.344 ms
 4  58.185.229.69 (58.185.229.69)  3.684 ms  3.348 ms  3.919 ms
 5  165.21.255.37 (165.21.255.37)  9.002 ms  3.516 ms  4.228 ms
 6  165.21.12.4 (165.21.12.4)  3.716 ms  3.965 ms  5.663 ms
 7  203.208.190.21 (203.208.190.21)  4.442 ms  4.117 ms  4.967 ms
 8  203.208.153.241 (203.208.153.241)  6.807 ms  55.288 ms  56.211 ms
 9  so-2-0-3-0.laxow-cr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.238)  187.953 ms  188.447 ms  187.809 ms
10  ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  184.143 ms
    ge-4-1-1-0.sngc3-dr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.138)  189.510 ms
    ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  289.039 ms
11  203.208.171.98 (203.208.171.98)  187.645 ms  188.700 ms  187.912 ms
12  te1-6.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (66.109.11.42)  186.482 ms  188.265 ms  187.021 ms
13  ae7.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.166)  188.569 ms  191.100 ms  188.736 ms
14  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  381.645 ms  410.052 ms  420.311 ms
15  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  415.379 ms  415.902 ms  418.339 ms
16  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  417.426 ms  417.301 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  416.692 ms
17  * * *

Post-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  192.168.206.1 (192.168.206.1)  2.850 ms  1.409 ms  1.206 ms
 2  174.133.118.65-static.reverse.networklayer.com (174.133.118.65)  1.550 ms  1.680 ms  1.394 ms
 3  ae4.dar01.sr03.sng01.networklayer.com (174.133.118.136)  1.812 ms  1.341 ms  1.734 ms
 4  ae9.bbr01.eq01.sng02.networklayer.com (50.97.18.198)  35.550 ms  1.999 ms  2.124 ms
 5  50.97.18.169-static.reverse.softlayer.com (50.97.18.169)  174.726 ms  175.484 ms  175.491 ms
 6  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  203.821 ms  203.749 ms  205.803 ms
 7  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.253)  306.755 ms
    ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  208.669 ms  203.127 ms
 8  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  203.518 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  305.534 ms
    po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  204.150 ms
 9  * * *

I won't dive too deep into what these traceroutes are telling us because that'll need to be an entirely different blog. What I want to draw your attention to are a few key differences between the pre- and post-launch traceroutes:

  • Getting onto SoftLayer's network:. The first reference to "networklayer" in the pre-launch trace is in hop 12 (~187ms). In the post-launch trace, we were on "networklayer" in the second hop (~1.5ms).
  • Number of hops: Pre-launch, our network path took 16 hops to get to SoftLayer.com. Post-launch, it took 8.
  • Response times from the destination: The average response time from SoftLayer.com to Singapore before the launch of our network points of presence in Asia was about 417ms (milliseconds). After the launch, it dropped to an average of about ~250ms.

These traceroutes demonstrate that users in Singapore travel a much better network path to a server in one of our U.S. data centers than they had before we turned up the network in Asia, and that experience isn't limited to users in Singapore ... users throughout Europe and Asia will see fewer hops and better speeds now that the data centers and points of presence on those continents are live. And that's without buying a server in either of those markets or making any changes to how they interact with us.

Managing a worldwide network for a worldwide customer base with thousands of different ISPs and millions of possible routes is not a "set it and forget it" endeavor, so we have a team of engineers in our Network Operations Center that focuses on tweaking and optimizing routes 24x7. Branching out into Europe and Asia introduces a slew of challenges when working with providers on the other side of the globe, but I guess it's true: "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

Innovate or die.

-@toddmitchell