How Big is Google?
Google’s recent FTTH announcement generated a wave of media coverage and industry discussion. Responses ranged from exuberant local communities racing to sign up to anti-competitive howls from incumbent carriers.
Industry pundits wondered what is Google up to? What will the search giant do with 1Gbps to the home? And more ominously, is Google getting too big?
While this blog post won’t explore the politics / strategy behind Google’s FTTH initiative (except to suggest Google should choose Ann Arbor), we will share some data on Google’s relative size and growth from a global Internet perspective.
Google is big.
And by “big”, I mean really big. If Google were an ISP, it would be the fastest growing and third largest global carrier. Only two other providers (both of whom carry significant volumes of Google transit) contribute more inter-domain traffic. But unlike most global carriers (i.e. the “tier1s”), Google’s backbone does not deliver traffic on behalf of millions of subscribers nor thousands of regional networks and large enterprises. Google’s infrastructure supports, well, only Google.
Based on anonymous data from 110 ISPs around the world, we estimate Google contributes somewhere between 6-10% of all Internet traffic globally as of the of summer of 2009.
The below graph shows the weighted average percentage of all Internet traffic contributed by Google ASNs between June 2007 and July 2009. Most of Google’s rapid growth comes after the acquisition of YouTube in 2007.
Before getting much further, a few words about what we’re measuring. Traffic volumes provide only the most indirect measure of a network’s size or popularity (for example, it takes tens of thousands of Tweets to match the bandwidth of a single HD video). Our anonymous data also does not include internal provider services (e.g. IPTV or VPN) nor data served from co-located caches within provider data centers. Rather, we’re measuring inter-domain traffic, i.e. the traffic between providers (the “inter” in “Internet”).
With all of the above said, inter-domain traffic volumes provide a key metric for understanding Internet topology and the evolution of Internet traffic patterns.
But even traffic volumes tell only part of the story.
The competition between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other large content players has long since moved beyond just who has the better videos or search. The competition for Internet dominance is now as much about infrastructure — raw data center computing power and about how efficiently (i.e. quickly and cheaply) you can deliver content to the consumer.
And here again, Google is at the head of the pack.
In 2007, Google used transit providers for the majority of their Internet traffic (including Level(3)). But over the last three years, Google both built out their global data center and content distribution capability as well as aggressively pursued direct interconnection with most consumer networks.
The graph below shows an estimate of the average percentage of Google traffic per month using direct interconnection (i.e. not using a transit provider). As before, this estimate is based on anonymous statistics from 110 providers. In 2007, Google required transit for the majority of their traffic. Today, most Google traffic (more than 60%) flows directly between Google and consumer networks.
Over the last year, Google deployed large numbers of Google Global Cache (GGC) servers within consumer networks around the world. Anecdotal discussions with providers, suggests more than half of all large consumer networks in North America and Europe now have a rack or more of GGC servers.
So, after billions of dollars of data center construction, acquisitions, and creation of a global backbone to deliver content to consumer networks, what’s next for Google?
Well, I’m hoping for delivery of content directly to the consumer via a nice, fat 1 Gbps FTTH pipe.
Google, please choose Ann Arbor.