Creating an infrastructure strategy that globally scales without high cost or performance issues remains a major challenge. The number of new online services and applications continues to grow every year, and are more central to our lives than ever before. In 2023, an Azure outage caused by a network connectivity issue caused thousands of global incidents, including a disruption of Microsoft Teams, which is used by over 280 million people worldwide.
If you are an IT professional struggling to balance cost, performance, reliability, and complexity taking a product or service globally, you are not alone. A recent report from Flexera found that 82% of respondents from across all organizations indicated that their top cloud challenge is managing spend.
One technology that can bring many benefits to global infrastructure, all at the network level, is border gateway protocol (BGP) anycast. By incorporating anycast into a global deployment, IT leaders can reduce both complexity and cost. Additionally, anycast can simplify network architecture, provide automatic failover, optimize performance, and boost reliability.
In this blog post, we will take a look at what BGP anycast is, how it works, and why it is important part of global infrastructure and network strategy for providers of content delivery, DNS, SaaS, and more.
What is BGP anycast?
Simply put, BGP anycast is a network addressing and routing technique that lets multiple servers in different locations all sit behind a single IP address. Anycast leverages the BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), which is how networks exchange routing information on the internet.
In an anycast network, multiple servers (which can also be referred to as Points of Presence or PoPs) are configured to all have the same IP address. However, they are all placed in different geographic locations or points on the network. Normally, these PoPs are all part of one infrastructure, and provide the same services or content. Every PoP announces the shared IP address to the internet via BGP.
How does BGP anycast work?
Let’s say someone sends a request to an IP address on an anycast network that delivers video content. When their device makes the request, anycast routing determines the optimal path for the request to take.
This optimal path is determined by the number of “hops” the requesting packet must make. A packet “hops” every time it goes through another router on the way to its destination. A path is usually optimal if it has the fewest hops, and this also is typically – but not always – the server or node that is geographically closest as well.
To be clear, it won’t always route the request to geographically closest server, since the autonomous system paths (AS-paths) BGP uses to route requests and geographical distance are unrelated. It will route the request via an optimal path that traverses the fewest networks.
In this example, the anycast network has several locations: Miami, Amsterdam, and Chennai. If someone in the Southeastern United States makes a request, anycast will choose the shortest of multiple routes available, and their video will be streamed from Miami since it is the fewest hops away. Likewise, if someone in Central Europe uses the same anycast address to make a request, their video will stream from a location in Amsterdam.
What types of providers can benefit the most from including anycast in their infrastructure strategy?
Nearly any provider with high traffic and performance demands can benefit from including anycast in their infrastructure strategy. Several types of providers, especially those operating DNS services, have been successfully leveraging anycast for years to ensure their infrastructure is fast and reliable.
DNS Service Providers
Resolving a domain name on the internet requires multiple requests to be fulfilled from multiple DNS servers. However, many of us don’t ever realize this because DNS requests are fulfilled so quickly – thanks in large part to anycast. Organizations that offer services such as domain registration (authoritative DNS), DNS resolution (recursive DNS), and managed DNS services have been leveraging anycast for a long time.
Why is this? DNS providers must have very distributed global infrastructure to be successful, to handle numerous requests that can come in from anywhere. With anycast, each DNS server in every location is broadcasting the same IP address. Incoming DNS queries are then sent via the most optimal IP route available to the server nearest to them on the network. Anycast routing makes sure that DNS responses travel the shortest distance to the end user, so that overall performance remains high. To learn more about the benefits anycast offers DNS providers, we invite you to read: “How Anycast DNS Makes the Internet Fast and Highly Reliable.”
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
CDNs and other streaming services also heavily use anycast because of their need for high performance and reliability. No one enjoys a slow, buffering video, or download that takes forever. CDNs work by placing copies of their content in multiple servers across regions – or even around the world for large CDNs with global audiences. But how do users get to the content servers that will deliver the best performance? That’s where anycast comes in.
With anycast, users are routed to the nearest edge server broadcasting the anycast IP. This minimizes latency and ensures the best possible content delivery speeds. To learn more about how anycast powers CDNs, please visit “Why Every Content Delivery Service Should Leverage an Anycast CDN.”
E-Commerce and Retail
Online retailers lose money every time their websites aren’t reachable, or if they are slow to load. To make sure online items load fast during browsing, and checkout is seamless, many global retailers rely on BGP anycast. When an online store distributes their online platform across multiple locations, anycast enables each destination to have the same address. Whenever a shopper makes a request to that platform’s IP address, it will be served by the location that will give them the best shopping experience.
Most cybersecurity services sit on top of existing services infrastructure, and don’t want to introduce unnecessary delays when a solution is deployed. To make a minimal impact on performance, cybersecurity services often rely on anycast. From firewalls to VPNs to Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) services, every service can be made faster and more reliable by incorporating anycast into their infrastructure and network strategy. You can learn more the benefits of using anycast with a cybersecurity service.
Online Gaming Platforms
To provide a truly immersive gaming experience, low latency and fast response times are a must – even if users are logging in from locations around the world. By leveraging anycast, online gaming services can boost connection speeds, and select the best available server for multiplayer games.
Global SaaS Platforms
In recent years, more SaaS solutions have been created, and are driving the modern workplace. Anycast can help make sure the distributed end users of SaaS platforms have a fast, seamless experience every time. To help avoid outages and boost reliability, anycast simplifies networking for SaaS platforms. This helps popular SaaS apps scale rapidly and reach new markets without major configuration changes.
Today’s modern, interconnected world relies more and more on fast, reliable online experiences. Downtime and outages can cost businesses millions—or even billions– in lost productivity and transactions.
To make modern global infrastructures resilient and high performing, anycast is a powerful solution for IT leaders to consider. It has numerous benefits when incorporated into an overall infrastructure strategy, including:
- Improved performance and reduced latency
- High availability and reliability
- Seamless failover and built-in protection against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
- Simplified networking to make scalability easier
- Reduced costs from built-in load balancing and DDoS protection
The benefits of anycast are numerous, especially when a service or platform needs to be globally available. We invite you to discover more about the potential use cases of anycast, or speak with an anycast expert to learn how anycast can be a strategic part of your global deployment.