Is the Internet down?

…overheard from a few cubicles over…

It depends.

If you want to drive your car on the expressway, and the on-ramp that you were about to use is closed, do you say:

  1. The expressway is closed
  2. The on-ramp is closed

If you chose #1, then you probably think that all your food disappears when you close your refrigerator door, and that all your family and friends cease to exist when you close your eyes to sleep at night. For you; yes, the Internet is down.

If you chose #2, congratulations. The falling tree does, indeed, make a sound, whether or not a witness was within earshot. Feels good to be rational, doesn’t it?

Although a congressman might be ridiculed by Jon Stewart for saying it, a great way to describe internet connectivity is as a series of tubes, the packets in those tubes, and the routers that direct them.

  • The routers are things that act like the friendly old street cop you see in the old movies. He smiled and answered politely when you asked for directions. If you are a packet, you only want to know where to go next to get to your destination, and a router hands you off (via the tubes) to the next router toward your destination, or to your destination itself.
  • The packets are the small pieces of communication that travel from router-to-router on the tubes. They are directed on their way to their destination by the routers. In the expressway example above, your car (and all cars) are the packet(s).
  • The tubes are the means of interconnected travel, like the expressway and on-ramp in the metaphor above. These are made up of your local internet connection (dsl, cable, t1, etc.), and the connections between the internet routers.

Now, then. Relax. The Internet is not down. Your access to it is. So you can’t reach eBay at the moment – it’s okay; eBay is still there… out there… and dinner is still in the fridge at home… So as soon as the janitor plugs your router back in to the overloaded outlet in the broom closet, you can buy more shoes.

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