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Exchange Visit Reveals Internet Complexity

by Adam O’Grady

Having your Internet connected may seem as simple as flicking a switch. As long as you’ve connected your phone lines, modems, routers and computers and they’re all playing nicely together, it should be easy right? Wrong. The connection in a customer’s house is just the beginning.

Recent trips to our local telephone exchange and iiNet’s data centre in WA threw much of what I had suspected about the Internet into perspective.

The easiest way to start is probably from the customer end. The telephone line from your house is a pair of wires that run under the street eventually reaching your local telephone exchange where the wires split up into a jungle of cables spread over the Main Distribution Frame (MDF). This connects all the “customer pair” cables to what is known as an “exchange pair” where customers receive their dial tone and calling ability.

To get access to ADSL2+ however, we usually change the way things work at the MDF. Rather than connecting the “customer pair” directly to the “exchange pair”, we instead extend the cables over to one of our own doovalackeys known as a DSLAM (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer). Here our funky looking DSLAMs inject the broadband signal into your line. All of the cabinets connect at a central point via optical dark fibre into the rest of our network.

So we have the first part of getting you connected to our network sorted but how does the DSLAM know who you are and what about all the other functions like email and usage? Well this is where our data centres come in. We built one in Osborne Park, WA, however we also keep a number of points-of-presence in other places around WA and Australia.

In these data centres, we have a host of necessary equipment like authentication servers to make sure only you are using your connection, DNS servers to translate things like iinet.net.au into the IP addresses used by computers, mail servers to filter the millions of funny forwards and anti-spam devices to keep your inbox clear of certain “enhancement product” emails. We also use our data centres to hold all of our customer-management servers to help keep track of bills and usage and store the notes on your account.

Having seen all of this technology in action, it’s amazing how much we take it all for granted. From the throwback-to-the-sixties setup of spaghetti wires and countless wooden nodes at Subiaco’s local exchange (they even have the original sliding wooden ladders and wood-panel plastic telephones on site) to the high-tech metal cabinets full of equipment in our Osborne Park data centre, literally decades of infrastructure and technology improvements have gone into the Internet connections we now expect of every residence and business. As technology inevitably expands throughout Australia you can bet iiNet will continue to grow with it.

(pictured: Operations Centre Manager John Rowling as he leads a tour of the Osborne Park data centre)

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