How Monitoring Tools Help Web Hosts Deliver Sites in Countries with Strict Internet Censorship

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With countries like Russia and China tightening laws around Internet censorship, web hosts operating in these markets have to come up with strategies to ensure their customers’ sites are loading fast and are delivered to visitors around the world.

This could seem like an insurmountable challenge for a small web host who can’t afford to build infrastructure themselves or are unsure which locations they should be delivering from in emerging markets.

One option for web hosts to keep tabs on customer sites and ensure they are being delivered out of countries known for blocking or censoring online content is to deploy a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Catchpoint Systems, a web performance testing and application monitoring provider based in New York, has noticed more web hosts and cloud providers using its monitoring service to understand the implications of censorship on site delivery and user experience.

“What we’re noticing, and it’s not only in Russia, is that a lot more countries are deploying kill switches, and deploying mechanisms for censorship or blocking,” Mehdi Daoudi, co-founder and CEO of Catchpoint says. “What we do, and what we provide our customers, is these measurement tools, and one way to use these measurement tools is to try and understand what impacts performance, reliability and availability.”

“Before you only had to worry about if there is a peering issue between two carriers or there is a power outage, but now there is more censorship. The tool is being used as a censorship detection mechanism,” he says.

Daoudi co-founded Catchpoint in 2008 with a team of three other former DoubleClick/Google executives who wanted to provide a platform that allows customers to measure or monitor different protocols including websites, DNS, latency, network, traceroutes, FTP services, and APIs, from about 300 locations worldwide.

Recently, Catchpoint has been focused on expanding in emerging markets like China, and in highly populated areas like Russia. In China, Catchpoint has teamed up with China Mobile to expand to 13 additional cities as part of its third-phase of growth there, deploying these new locations over the next 4-6 weeks.

“We have made a significant investment in two places that are critical not only to our growth but also what we are seeing in the marketplace. I’ll start with China; everybody is trying to get more visibility to China so the push we made is a major increase in locations in China,” Daoudi says.

“Obviously it’s driven a lot by major cloud providers, by ecommerce companies, by CDNs that are trying to penetrate the Chinese market or at least understand the behavior and the data so they can plan ahead of that,” he says. “Regarding China, a big mistake is, ‘Oh well, we can build a data center in Shanghai and Hong Kong’ and all the sudden you’re delivering China, or delivering Chinese customers from Japan, which is an even bigger mistake.”

With the new expansion through China Mobile, Catchpoint will have 31 nodes in China. “We’re not going to stop there, China is a big country with a lot of interesting patterns and issues,” Daoudi says. “I think for us to provide an even better service from China we’re going to have to probably double that number.”

In Russia, Catchpoint is expanding from 2 points of presence with international carriers Level 3 and Cogent to more local deployments in five major cities by population where it partnered with 4-5 local carriers, including Megafon and ER-Telecom.

“What we decided to do was make one big sweeping investment and open up 21 nodes or locations in Russia,” Daoudi says. “There are five more coming online this week.”

Russia is a fairly educated population and is getting more and more access to the Internet, Daoudi says. Right now it is focused between Moscow and St. Petersburg, but eventually it will expand to more locations.

“It’s becoming very important for us whether our US or European customers want to get visibility from Russia that we provide them with the toolsets to give them visibility,” he said. “For example, we have a customer in the Netherlands in the gaming industry and Russia for them is the second largest market.”

“We also talked to some big US social networks and for them Russia is big. Even Ebay; Russia is very important for them as a market,” he said.

While Russia and China tend to be the go-to examples of countries with extreme online censorship practices (Russia just passed a new law that targets bloggers), there are many other countries that are participating in Internet censorship at the government-level.

“A lot of our customers don’t know about the censorship that is happening,” Daoudi says. “It’s a growing trend among countries to put in place control mechanisms to literally be able to just shut down things. You look at it in Turkey – we were able to detect the whole Twitter thing in 10 seconds.”

“We’re talking about net neutrality in the US and it’s a big topic. And we have an example of that at the government level and not the corporate level in other countries,” he says.

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