The Holiday Internet Weather Forecast

Thursday is Thanksgiving in America, but the subsequent Friday and Monday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, are increasingly becoming global holidays, the shopping kind. Last year Cyber Monday saw online sales jump 15% over the previous year. Organic traffic spikes of 200% during Black Friday are not unusual, and reports of 800% increases have even been recorded. So what kind of Internet Weather can you expect this holiday season and how will those patterns impact enterprise wide area networks (WANs)?

To answer that question, Silver Peak teamed up once again with InternetWeatherMap.Com to measure latencies from across 50,000 hops. Additional information about packet loss across Internet backbones was gathered from Keynote Systems. Results from that research will be reported in full next to week, but here’s our best stab at playing your friendly “Internet Weatherman” (and probably with as much accuracy as a real weatherman).

1) SaaS Operators Will See Network Latency Spikes of 10 Percent or More

We’ll be watching the impact retail traffic has on the enterprise and that leads to our first bold prediction: expect average latency for SaaS providers to increase by at least 10 percent from the norm.

Major events and flash crowds, in general, can significantly impact latency on the Internet. Victoria Secret probably first showed that effect when it aired its first-ever Super Bowl commercial, announcing the live Webcast of its Spring Fashion Show. The live Webcast drew a record-breaking 1.5 million visitors worldwide and many potential users were not able to join the event. Last year’s World Cup saw roundtrips spike to more than 600 milliseconds (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
Fig. 1


But extrapolating the effects of these flash events to something like Black Friday and Cyber Monday is complex for a number of reasons. They are isolated events, forcing Internet traffic towards particular domains and addresses. It’s precisely for this kind of traffic that content delivery networks are so helpful. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are general phenomena and hence more likely to cause a more diffuse impact on Internet weather.

Additionally, in cases such as the Brazilian World Cup, the density of Internet infrastructure makes an enormous difference. The more interconnected the autonomous systems, the more paths there are to assume additional traffic loads. Today there are more than 16,000 autonomous system numbers (ASN) in North America. Autonomous systems numbers are collections of connected IP routing prefixes under the control of one or more network operators that present a common, clearly defined routing policy to the Internet. ASNs uniquely identify the operator’s network on the Internet. At the time of the Brazilian World Cup, the country had made significant progress, putting it ahead of other similarly developed countries, but there were still just 2,000 ASNs.

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

It’s reasonable to assume that there will be delays on shared resources and that will impact SaaS providers. The increased latency might be less than on the e-commerce provider, but the effect could be greater as SaaS applications often involve larger data transfer than simple web browsing.

2) Resolving DNS Queries to Take a 20 Percent Longer

But backbones are not the only shared resource of Internet infrastructure. With so many visitors hitting e-commerce sites, IT managers should also expect to see a delay when resolving DNS queries. How much? I’m guessing at least 20 percent, and that’s being conservative. DNS Made Easy, the self-proclaimed leading provider of enterprise IP Anycast Managed DNS services, noted a 30 percent increase in DNS last year across their IP Anycast network on Black Friday.

3) Expect a 15% Increase in Latency to E-Commerce sites

Operators generally do a good job managing their own backbones, but events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday can change all of that. Expect latencies to your favorite e-commerce providers to jump by 20 percent.

Whether that spells disaster for your shopping experience is another matter. While resolving DNS queries is very noticeable to users, Web browsing is pretty tolerant to network latency. Even at 300 ms the user experience is generally acceptable, says David Strickler at By contrast, data transfers and, particularly real-time applications, are unusable at that latency.

4) 13% More Users Will Complain About Web Performance

You’ll have to help us here as we’re not monitoring your network, but expect to see 13% more of your users asking why the Web seems so slow. Chances are this won’t have to do with backbone latency or peering, but resolving those DNS queries. DNS queries can account for 29% of initial page load time, according to DYN, an Internet research consultancy.

5) Packet Loss Will Exceed 1 Percent on At Least One Backbone

Expect there to be at least one network operator with more than one percent packet loss on the backbone. My guess? Cogent, SBC, and Sprint. Operators like to claim zero percent loss across their backbones but rarely is that the case. When we examined packet loss in our last Internet Weather report, average loss rates ran .34%, with more than half the backbones having one day where average loss exceeded 1 percent. Cogent, SBC, and Sprint showed some of the highest packet loss averages. I’m guessing those three will do the same on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Find out if we were on the money (or not) next week when we take a look at what happened over the shopping holiday. Now stay tuned for sports and weather coming up after this commercial break…