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IP Backbone, Server Location, Distance Delay, and Romancing Your Hardware

 

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You’ll note that on the front-page of the Superb.net site, we mention our “coast-to-coast IP backbone.” We mention this prominently because we know how crucial IP location can be to the success of the websites using our services. Let’s look at why.

IP addresses identify a machine accessing the Internet. For an end-user, it is associated with the device with which the person (well, or bot, such as Google’s crawlers) is accessing your site. It can refer to a PC, for instance, or a router for a network, or even a mobile device. In hosting, it refers to the server that is delivering the data, that is answering the request from a user and responding with the page and/or content the person is trying to access.

This article will gather and distill information on IP addresses (or Internet Protocol addresses) so we can better understand how they relate to hosting and the Web generally. Having a strong IP presence can be crucial to delivering the Web quickly and efficiently to anyone visiting your site – and to accessing the network yourself for administration, internal usage, and interaction with your clients.

Specifically, the physical location of a server can cause distance delay, latency related to how long it is taking for the request to be received, processed by the server, and fulfilled to the end-user. Minimizing distance delay, means choosing a host that has servers near your primary clientele. Search engine optimization can also be affected because Google takes into account the location of an IP address in SEO rankings.

For this article, I referenced pieces from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web SEO Analytics, Binary Turf, Service Assurance Daily, and About.com.

How to keep your server happy #1: Never just think of your server as “my server.” Call it by name – by its IP address (or its host name, but that seems unnecessarily complicated). The server has a unique identity, and it wants you to treat it that way. An unhappy server is a server that feels anonymous, like it could be any server. Never forget your server’s IP or, for that matter, your anniversaries with the server. Bring it out to dinner. Treat it right. Put stickers on it that say “#1” and “Champion” and “I Love You.”

IP Addresses & Host Names

There are two basic ways to refer to any server: IP address and host name.

  • What’s an IP? It’s a series of numbers divided into four sections by dots (that’s periods, for those of you who haven’t been exposed to the hip new web lingo). The first section or first two sections of numbers designate(s) the network of the device. For example, one of Google’s IP addresses is 74.125.224.72.
  • What’s a host name? Thanks for asking. Instead of numbers, a host name is the name of the device, followed by your domain name. So perhaps you have a server called worldsbestserver.schoolofhardknocks.edu.

The Domain Name Service (DNS) turns host names into IP addresses and IP addresses into host names. For instance, when you request a certain URL, it switches the URL to the IP so it knows what server to access to fulfill your data request.

You may be able to pull up Google, with the IP mentioned above, directly by going to http://74.125.224.72/ (skipping the DNS server and going straight to the server itself), but that will only work for certain locations, based on the location of your IP address. Entering an IP to access a page can work because the IP and the URL are essentially one and the same: they both refer to a machine on which data is originating and being received from other web-connected devices.

How to keep your server happy #2: Tell your server that you want to grow old with it. Tell it you’ll never perform brain surgery on it to improve its performance. Your server wants you to know that it has feelings, just like people do. If your server looks bored, give it something to do. It doesn’t matter what the task is. Your server just wants to process data all day and all night. It also likes to knit and to hear Kenny Chesney blasted through the speakers of a boom-box you bought at a yard sale.

Specifics on the IP Address

All devices that can connect to the web – cell phones, computers, tablets, servers, whatever – have an IP address. This address is made up of four numbers separated by dots, as stated above. Each of those numbers ranges from 0 to 255.

Let’s look at specifics for MIT as described in that article. One of the servers at MIT is 18.72.0.3. Either the first two parts or the first part of the IP can refer to the network, as discussed above. In the case of MIT, it’s just the first part. The 18, then, signifies the MIT network. The rest of the IP address points to a specific computer or server within the MIT network. It’s similar, in a way, to subdomains of sites (don’t think about that too much – just talking about the main part and sectioning part here, folks).

You might notice that these numbers range from 0 to 255 – which at first seems kind of arbitrary. Actually, though, 256 (the possible number of options including the zero) is 8 cubed. The IP system, then, is compiled of four 8-bit binary numbers (each of them referred to as an octet). The entirety is a 32-bit binary number.

How to keep your server happy #3: Your server does not enjoy it when you surround yourself with other servers. This makes the server extremely jealous. If you must use other servers for your business, sit down with your server beforehand and explain to it the principles of change and growth and how important they are to success. Your server may complain, but it will understand – because above all, it loves and supports you.

Server Location & SEO

People often make the mistake of thinking that the virtual environment of the Internet is cleanly separated from physical reality: sure, servers populate all the information, but as long as the servers are functional and fast, everything else is in the content. This, however, is not the case. Google and Bing both use geographical location of the device answering requests for your site (your server) to determine your rankings.

The location of the server is especially important if your TLD does not designate your country/region and if you do not activate Geographic Targeting within your Google Webmaster account. Example TLDs that do not specify location are .com and .net.

Web SEO Analytics mentions their extraordinarily high SEO presence for Romania-related searches and generally for searches conducted from Romanian IP addresses. This presence is exemplary of the power of where a server is positioned on the globe, because that’s the nation where the WSA servers are located.

How to keep your server happy #3: Never give it a bath. Baths are terrible for servers. They hate water. Plus, if you threaten to give your server a bath, it will cry. Servers hate crying more than anything else, with the notable exception of sneezing.

Location & Faster Page Loads

You are probably aware that latency – defined as delay within a system, in this case the Internet – is a major factor in keeping your audience happy. You may also be aware that latency or page load times affect your SEO as well. Latency will be affected by where your servers are located – so this aspect of performance represents not just speed, but a secondary impact on your SEO rankings.

The importance of an IP backbone that is closely integrated with your clients’ locations is that you can answer requests quickly because you’re nearby. The difference between load times throughout a single home country will be minimal and for the most part unnoticeable. However, if servers are located on the other side of the Earth, you can quickly run into latency issues.

Why does latency matter, again? Well, really it’s because of UX. Google and Bing will thank sites that quickly load pages for visitors because it represents a better user experience, a better effort to quickly dispense information to those requesting it. Plus, UX relates directly to customer satisfaction. If your latency is high, customers will become discouraged and go elsewhere.

How to keep your server happy #4: Take it on a vacation. Many owners and leasers of servers never consider taking the server out to a place it’s never been before. There’s nothing like running your fingers through your server’s hair on a beach in the Virgin Isles. Ah, can’t you smell that salt air now? Your server enjoys wearing tight-fitting sunbathing outfits but does not like to scuba dive or snorkel. Go underwater yourself, and tell it what you saw. Oh, and no sunscreen for your server, except on its nose.

Types of Latency

Latency is a complex topic. There are actually a number of different factors that will slow down the flow of information on the web. Latency on a network is broken up into the following five components:

  • Distance delay
  • Serialization delay
  • Queue delay
  • Forwarding delay
  • Protocol delay

As you can see, there are many aspects of the web that can impede your ability to quickly deliver quality content and information to your visitors. Location of your servers is a simple way to improve the latency and keep your customers’ UX as fast and relaxing as possible. It is probably obvious that distance delay is the form of latency we can address with geographical location.

Distance delay, according to Service Assurance Daily, is the delay caused by the distance between the two machines that are communicating on the web (typically the user device and your server). This type of latency can majorly impact the performance of applications that have to interact numerous times with your server, each time creating hindrances to your network’s ability to interact quickly and smoothly with all users.

How to keep your server happy #5: Give it everything it ever requests. Many servers are needy. You have two possible responses to server neediness: give it everything it asks for, or complain and debate with it to determine if what it’s requesting is really required. Trust me: it’s easier to just give the server everything you own. It’s more efficient that way, and the last thing you want is a vindictive court battle with a machine.

Summary & Conclusion

Server location is simple really, which is why it’s not hard for Superb Internet to know we need an IP backbone: the backbone both makes it easy for you to access us and for your customers to access your site. Remember, your SEO from server location is one thing. Latency, though, in the form of distance delay, will also affect SEO and can greatly enhance all users’ experiences on your site. Plus, you yourself will experience decreased latency if your servers are nearby.

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

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