The Cloud and Points of Failure: Really?

September 13, 2022

A professional affiliated with Syntropy points out one of my “laws” of online; namely, that centralization is inevitable. What’s interesting about “The Internet is Now So Centralized That One Company Can Break It” is that it does not explain much about Syntropy. In my opinion, there is zero information about the c9ompany. The firm’s Web site explains:

Unlocking the power of the world’s scientific data requires more than a new tool or method – it requires a catalyst for change and collaboration across industries.

The Web site continues:

We are committed to inspiring others around our vision — a world in which the immense power of a single source of truth in biomedical data propels us towards discoveries, breakthroughs and cures faster than ever before.

The company is apparently involved with Merck KGaA, which as I recall from my Pharmaceutical News Index days, is not too keen on sharing its intellectual property, trial data, or staff biographies. Also, the company has some (maybe organic, maybe more diaphanous) connection with Palantir Technologies. Palantir, an interesting search and retrieval company morphing into search based applications and consulting, is a fairly secretive outfit despite its being a publicly traded company. (The firm’s string of quarterly disappointments and its share price send a signal to some astute observers I think.)

But what’s in the article by individual identified at the foot of the essay as Domas Povilauskas, the top dog at Syntropy. Note that the byline for the article is Benzinga Contributor which is not particularly helpful.

Hmmm. What’s up?

The write up recycles the online leads to centralization notion. Okay. But centralization is a general feature of online information, and that’s not a particularly new idea either.

The author continues:

The problem with the modern Internet is that it is essentially a set of private networks run by individual internet service providers. Each has a network, and most connections occur between these networks…. Networks are only managed locally. Routing decisions are made locally by the providers via the BGP protocol. There’s no shared knowledge, and nobody controls the entire route of the connection. Using these public ISPs is like using public transport. You have no control over where it goes. Providers own the cables and everything else. In this system, there are no incentives for ISPs to provide a good service.

The set up of ISPs strikes me as a mix of centralization and whatever works. My working classification of ISPs and providers has three categories: Constrained services (Amazon-type outfits), Boundary Operators (the TOR relay type outfits), and Unconstrained ISPs and providers (CyberBunker-type organizations). My view is that this is the opposite of centralization. In each category there are big and small outfits, but 90 percent of the action follows Arnold’s Law of Centralization. What’s interesting is that in each category — for instance, boundary operators — the centralization repeats just on a smaller scale. AccessNow runs a conference. At this conference are many operators unknown by the general online user.

The author of the article says:

The only way to get a more reliable service is to pay ISPs a lot for high-speed private connections. That’s the only way big tech companies like Amazon run their data centers. But the biggest irony is that there is enough infrastructure to handle much more growth.  70% of Internet infrastructure isn’t utilized because nobody knows about these routes, and ISPs don’t have an excellent solution to monetize them on demand. They prefer to work based on fixed, predetermined contracts, which take a lot of time to negotiate and sign.

I think this is partially correct. As soon as one shifts from focusing on what appear to be legitimate online activities to more questionable and possibly illegal activities, evidence of persistent online services which are difficult for law enforcement to take down thrive. CyberBunker generated millions and required more than two years to knock offline and reign in the owners. There is more dimensionality in the ISP/provider sector than the author of the essay considers.

The knock-offline idea sounds good. One can point to the outages and the pain caused by Microsoft Azure/Microsoft Cloud, Google Cloud, Amazon, and others as points of weakness with as many vulnerabilities as a five-legged Achilles would have.

The reality is that the generalizations about centralization sound good, seem logical, and appear to follow the Arnold Law that says online services tend to centralization. Unfortunately new technologies exist which make it possible for more subtle approaches to put services online.

Plus, I am not sure how a company focused on a biomedical single source of truth fits into what is an emerging and diverse ecosystem of ISPs and service providers.

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2022

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