Tech you use daily - but you've never heard of
28th Sep 2011 | 11:45
The hidden online services behind everyday life
Technology is usually easy to identify. You start up your laptop, browser or image-editing software, and you can easily see who developed it.
Even your smartphone probably makes a show of which operating system is installed.
Yet, there is some technology you use every day that is much more obscure.
These technologies may be lesser-known, but they're no less important - in many ways, they're absolutely crucial to the way we live.
1. The last-mile backhaul
When you download a song from iTunes or watch a programme on BBC iPlayer, you are using a back-haul provider like Akamai. These services speed up download times by placing high-speed servers at the last point of contact – the service chooses which server for you to stream from depending on your location. The alternative would be to jump through multiple web servers until you finally connect to the provider of the particular service. About 15-30 per cent of all Internet traffic flows through the Akamai backhaul service, but you'd never know it.
2. The mobile payment provider
When you buy an app with your Android phone, you're using a mobile billing tool like Openet, but there is no hint that the transaction is handled by anyone besides Google. In reality, mobile payment services analyse your user ID, verifying your credentials, monitor current traffic conditions, and process the credit card order in a fraction of a second.
3. The domain operator
Any time you visit a .com or .net domain, there's a good chance you connected to the site using VeriSign, which operates about 110 million domains, facilitates 60 billion online connections, and provides the secure connection for about 8 trillion transactions all over the globe. Domain registrars turn the cryptic IP address of a site into a text string you can find when you search the web.
4. Simulation software
You may not directly use this technology, but you probably benefit from it every single day. Simulation software like ANSYS puts a virtual product through a rigorous testing procedure (say, crashing a car into a brick wall, or running for several years on a tarmac road) before it becomes a physical object. Just about every major automaker uses ANSYS, as do cosmetic companies, shoe companies, furniture makers, and even smartphone manufacturers.
5. Web crawlers
We are all pawns in the master plan of search engines. When you search for a new car or try to find out what happened in a recent sporting event, the terms you type into Google trigger site crawling agents. Google then optimises for the best results – say, predicting that a search for Jennifer Aniston will lead to photos plus a bio and not just the latest gossip headlines.
6. Cryptography software
Starting in the early 1970s, cryptography software has helped protect your identity, made credit card transactions more secure, and blocked hackers from gaining access to your bank account. Algorithms essentially take one piece of data and put it into a different form; to gain access to the data, you need to know the passcode or the programming routine that unlocks the original data.
7. DLNA media streaming
The Digital Living Network Alliance is a set of standards that helps you stream video, music, photos, and other content from one device to another. You may not know this, but your smartphone probably has DLNA tech installed, as does your video game console and computer. The standards do more than just enable the connection, though. DLNA uses algorithms that help speed up transmissions and keep them from going haywire, which is why your streaming video looks smooth.
8. Website backup tech
Any time you visit a site, especially one powered by WordPress.org or some other blogging engine, you're benefitting from domain backup technology. Many internet service providers like GoDaddy.com will back-up a site automatically when you register; other providers like VaultPress provide tools to do this manually.
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