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IoT: Where does the Internet live?

Almost everything about our daily lives can be found on the Internet, but where does our data go? Our mental map of this vast network is akin to our map of the stars, or closer yet, a blank page that simply reads ‘terra incognita’.

The physicality of the Internet, its material nuts and bolts, remains relatively unexplored territory to most of us. However, if we mapped out the routes our data travels, we’d find that most of the world’s internet traffic flows through just 5 major internet hubs:

Frankfurt, Germany (2.5 Terabits per second)

Amsterdam, Netherlands (2.4 Terabits per second)

London, United Kingdom (1.8 Terabits per second)

Moscow, Russia (1.1 Terabits per second)

Virginia, USA (610 Gigabits per second)

The first 4 hubs on that list live in well-established and universally recognised cities, but the most interesting one sits in Loudon County in Virginia. Astonishingly, 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through Loudoun, a place many may have never heard of. Just 25 miles from the United States capital sits the largest concentration of data centres in the world. It has since become affectionately known as “Data Centre Alley

With almost six million square feet of data centre floor space, the region has become a piece of prime Internet real estate. That number is expected to rise to nine million square feet in the coming years. So how did an unassuming county primarily known for its vineyards end up becoming a key player in the global tech economy?

Loudoun is seemingly built for the future. Initial investments from big players helped lay the groundwork for the operation, meaning that Loudoun has available build sites already powered, watered, and wired. This fast track program allows data centre operators to get to market in record time with confidence in the process. What’s more, the typical power rate paid by Loudoun data centres is 28 percent below the rest of the U.S on average, which makes it extremely cost-efficient.

In addition, the success of Data Centre Alley has been supported by a change in the state tax code that was first adopted in 2009. Exempting pricey IT equipment from sales and use taxes plays an important factor not only for new builds, but every time the data centres refresh their servers – typically on a 3-year cycle.

The most interesting thing about internet traffic flow is that it is dynamic; if a new data centre cluster pops up somewhere down the line that list might very well change. Perhaps the best visual example of the internet can be found by looking at Earth during the night. In the same way that we can pinpoint major cities by light density, a map of the internet and major internet exchanges may look very similar.

However, this could be an over-simplified look at the web, especially considering how rapidly devices are connecting to the Internet. In the next part, we’ll take a closer look at smarter cities.