For those who have had the privilege of driving in London you will be only too aware that traffic moves at a snail’s pace throughout the day and then slows down during rush hours. Traffic demand that exceeds the capacity of extremely narrow roads delivers the expected result of frustratingly long delays. If one must drive into London to meet at an appointed time, the traveler would be well advised to plan the journey with time to spare or plan on missing it.
For many decades, every major city in the world has had similar traffic problems and has had to evolve a wide range of regulatory processes (traffic lights, one way streets etc.) as a way to keep the many wheels of commerce turning.
Unfortunately all the methods, laws, and policies to keep traffic flowing does not guarantee that it will. With random traffic patterns mixed with other normal and abnormal daily events, successful traffic flow is achieved only on a 'best efforts' basis. It is therefore hardly surprising that in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, it has been reported by the BBC and British press that "Red traffic lights will automatically turn green to speed chauffeur-driven dignitaries along special VIP lanes to the many London Olympic venues, while millions of ordinary travelers will face extensive delays."
Whether this statement is true or false is of no consequence; however it is interesting to note that the issue of traffic congestion becomes a significant threat because the success of the Olympics is acutely dependent athletes and officials arriving on time. The same holds true for Internet applications that are media based such as video and VoIP. For these applications to deliver value to the customer the application packets must arrive in order and on time, failure to do so will mean application failure and a poor customer experience.
[ White Paper - Understanding Internet Speed Test Results - The problem is not in the measurement, it is in understanding the test results as they relate to the application problem being experienced (PDF) ]
For those responsible for the success of the 2012 London Olympics, the challenge is to change the policy rules designed to keep the city traffic flowing so that the time critical Olympic traffic can take priority over all non-Olympic traffic. If this policy is implemented, the already congested narrow roads will be dramatically reduced in bandwidth to ensure that Olympic vehicles will have uncontested traffic lanes. The inevitable disruption will be further compounded as the regulatory traffic lights will also be controlled in favour of Olympic traffic.
This dilemma is one that occurs every day on the Internet but is not recognised simply because it’s invisible. Take for example what happens when two high priority vehicles on the Internet highway (e.g. VoIP and video) travelling to different locations in opposite directions both reach the same intersection at the same time? Have you ever wondered why your VoIP call had garbled voice or got dropped midway through? Like the London traffic during the Olympics, this disruption is likely to be a result of policies (or lack of) that regulate and interfere with the Internet traffic flow.
Furthermore, a moral dilemma arises if the contending vehicle at the lights is an ambulance trying to reach a heart attack victim. During the London Olympics what about all the other emergency response vehicles that are now excessively delayed in the reduced capacity traffic lanes earmarked for all other traffic.
So in conclusion, when traffic becomes time dependent and regulatory policies are needed to ensure the success of the application or event (because demand can exceed capacity), then what is one customer’s gain will always be another customer’s loss. The conventional network monitoring of Internet traffic becomes misleading when policies like these have been implemented as these policies deliberately cause delays to certain applications (or in the case of the London Olympics, vehicles), rendering the traditional monitoring results inaccurate. In the world of city traffic the contention and disruption is visible for all to see and it is impossible for the authorities to hide the penalties caused by regulation, in the internet world it is the opposite. It is therefore not surprising that so many poor customer experiences online are attributable to policy based interference, yet so few service providers understand this underlying reason and incorrectly blame their customer.