The Reality Behind The Enigma That's the Internet

Seemingly an omnipresent existence, the internet hosts millions of searches, clicks, and emails via World Wide Web. The fluidity of its actions deceives us into believing that the internet traffic takes an aerial route, after all, we don’t see our mobiles being wired to anything.

The truth, however, is far more impressive as the satellites only deliver 1% of the total interactions taking place.

Arguably, holding the most important in the modern era, the internet, is considerably vulnerable and quite tangible. In reality, it runs under our feet via an intricate system of extremely thin underground and underwater cables, connected to humongous data storage units, powerful enough to recall any bit of information in a moment.

Here is the real face of the internet:

In the most empirical sense, the internet does the job of taking information from one point to another. These points are called IP addresses. They are specific codes that link your devices to the internet and serve as identifications for different locations around the world. You can know your IP address via simple Google search.


Internet data servers, inside the data centers around the world, receive the information that goes through the web. An estimated amount of 9.5 trillion gigabytes was transferred via servers in 2008 only. A study by IDC shows by 2025, approximately 163 trillion gigabytes will be generated.

Source: goo.gl/kVXNHz

The information is moved across the oceans more often than not as the connections mostly are made by the cheaper and faster cables than the satellites. However, their laying down is an extremely tedious work that took over 200 years and still takes a lot to maintain.

Over 300 underwater cables spanning over a total of 550,000 miles is what makes the internet that it is today.


Source: https://www.submarinecablemap.com/

According to the Asia Pacific Economic Corporation, around 97% of the data transferred to intercontinental is via cables.

The underwater cables, if laid out end to end, they could span from the moon and back and then circle the globe three times at its widest point.


The longest cable hits 39 different points, extending from Germany to Korea and a little far south to Australia, the total of a staggering 24000 miles.

The first intercontinental cable was laid down between Ireland to Newfoundland, in 1858.

Different types of cables are used underwater. These range in size from a garden hose to around 3 inches in diameter. In the deep ocean floor, the lightest cables are laid.

A fiber optic wire makes up the core of these cables that are shielded from the ocean by petroleum jelly and layers of metal coats around the fiber core.

Source: What's Inside?/ YouTube

A huge marine vessel with miles of coiled up cable and an aid of millions of dollars is what it takes to lay down a single wire.

A number of cables are prone to damage by corrosion, fishers, natural disasters and shark bites even, as they’re laid as deep as 25000 feet under the ocean surface.

Around 50 cable breaks happen in Atlantic alone every year, according to MIT Tech Review. These breaks are mended by special ships with hooks that retract the damaged areas of cable or cut them and then bring them up for the repair.

Source: Flickr / Official U.S. Navy Page

At the shore, the cables come at landing points and are transferred to the data centers via underground channels. Between underground and underwater cables, the maintenance is easier for the underground in some aspects (like no issue of shark bites) yet, challenging in others.

US host an estimate of five hundred and forty-two cables and two hundred and seventy-three connecting points.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the first map of the cable networks in the US was available. It was the result of a four-year-long labor of Paul Barford and his team of researchers who put it together

A country’s infrastructure determines the ecosystem of cables that are laid down. For example, the majority of long-haul cables in the US are put along the major roads and railways.

The cables being dug up during the construction and hence being damaged is a big concern on the dry land. This is why gas pipes and inside of old pipelines make up the best residing place, accompanying them, aboveground markers throughout the entire path.

The cables underground, just like their underwater extensions, are subjected to damage by natural disasters, like earthquakes.

The data centers discussed before, eventually get the cable and pass them to the machine servers.

Machine servers are usually unmarked buildings away from the city limits in discrete rural lands. Sometimes they’re in the buildings in heavily populated city areas, hidden and disguised in plain sight.


Lower Manhattan holds one of the world’s most concentrated hubs of internet connectivity, at 60 Hudson Street. New York holds two more major hubs, 111 Eighth Avenue- a property of Google acquired recently.

These centers consume a huge amount of energy. Recently two 100 acre solar energy power plants were built by Apply to aid in powering its North Carolina Data Center, at full capacity, which requires a massive amount of 20 MW of power. A total of over 3000 homes can be supplied with this much.

Laded with “deafening noisy rooms cocooning racks of servers and routers” where you get to be “buffeted by hot and cold air that blusters through everything,” says the designer and artist Timo Arnall, who jotted down about a large European data center namely, Telefonica.

To balance out the heat from the servers, on the ground, the ceilings should be 12-14 feet high. The ceilings in Philadelphia Internet Exchange are, for example, 12 foot high.

Because of the huge amount of heat that they generate, the providers prefer to place them in cooler countries to cut down on cooling expenses. After countless experiments with underwater data centers, Microsoft is aiming to place one under the sea.

For 5 years, “Project Natick” will be 117 feet below the sea level, 4 years and 7 months longer than the previous one tested by Microsoft. At merely 40 feet in length, it is much smaller than the average center. It’s being powered by a cable from Orkney.

image: Microsoft / goo.gl/6gSSC8

Data centers are one of the most secure places. You can’t just get into one without a special permission. Bigger ones like Telefonica have “security far higher than any airport” said Arnall.

The proof of internet’s existence is its majestic buildings. Constantly reminding us of the work they take up while maintaining the World Wide Web and keeping it from falling apart.

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