Tech Tuesday Episode 2: HTTP/3 and Increasing Website Speed
Andrew Martin

Tech Tuesday is a vlog series for directors of technology at schools and districts. Finalsite's sales engineer Rob Rawcliffe and our recent cybersecurity grad Cristina Pawlica will discuss a variety of topics in education technology every other week. In this episode of Tech Tuesday, Rob and Christina talk about the emergence of HTTP/3, how this newer technology will increase website speeds and efficiency, how Google and Cloudflare have teamed up to advance the development of HTTP/3, and how HTTP/3 will benefit schools of all sizes around the world.

Cristina Pawlica: Hi, and welcome to Tech Tuesday, a video series for Directors of Technology working in the education field. My name is Christina. I've been with Finalsite for almost two years now, and I'm also going back to school to get my masters in cybersecurity. I'm here with Rob, who is our go-to expert for all things tech. Rob, would you like to introduce yourself?

Rob Rawcliffe: Yep! As Christina said, my name is Rob Rawcliffe. I have been with Finalsite now for eight years in a number of different roles. Previous to that, I worked at a high school in Connecticut, and then a middle school in Connecticut. So, I've been in the tech industry quite a while and really enjoy it. So it's given me a great position to help Finalsite clients with what they need.

Cristina Pawlica: So, today we're going to talk about HTTP/3, walk you through what it is, how it's used, and what it means for the future. So, Rob, do you want to tell us what is HTTP/3?

Rob Rawcliffe: Yeah, so I think we should probably start with what HTTP is because it's something everybody's heard. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which is basically the way that communication happens between a server and your computer. So, like we're talking right now, servers and computers talk to each other in a very structured way, but the HTTP protocol is really almost like a framework of how they should talk to each other.

Cristina Pawlica: So how do parties talk to each other now? How does that information go back and forth?

Rob Rawcliffe: So right now, most sites are using HTTPS, and the S stands for secure, and that really means that when I am connecting to a server, and I'm requesting a website, that server is who it says it is, and there's no chance that somebody is going to kind of jump in the middle of the conversation and start stealing your data, or trying to provide false data, or hacking, or whatever it may be nefarious that people get up to nowadays. 

So that's kind of where we're up to. Google does set some algorithms to, you know, prefer pages that have HTTPS. So most likely you're going to see that. Now the HTTP/3 protocol that we're going to talk about today is really the next version of that.

Cristina Pawlica: Gotcha. What makes it a game changer exactly?

Rob Rawcliffe: It's really, I mean, Google developed it so that there's a lot. When we're talking computers talk in a very structured way. So, for example, if I am a server, and I'm sending you a web page, You've said to me, “Hey, send me this web page.” And so I say, “Okay, I'll send you this web page. This is what you're getting.” And then you say to me, “Okay, I've got that piece. Can you send me the next piece?” And then, I will send you that image, and you then say, “Okay, I've got that image. Can you send me the next piece?” 

And so this goes on for all the files on a webpage, and obviously that can be hundreds of files, and so that acknowledgement of like, “Oh yes, I received that now. Can you send me the next one?” is really kind of a very long winded process, and it can really slow down a website, very much like if you and me were talking. 

I would be saying “Do you understand that?” at the end of every sentence. You say, “Yes, I understand that. Tell me the next sentence.” and it's just not how people communicate. So, what Google did is develop this protocol, and it really allows us to take advantage of two different protocols. 

One is called UDP, which is a little bit more secure. And then TCP, which everybody's probably. heard of, and that's really just what is used to kind of communicate between the both

Now what that means in layman's terms is, instead of you and me talking, you say “Yes, I acknowledge that. Yes, I acknowledge that.”  I know that you are Christina. I'm just going to send you all these files. If you don't receive those, or if you’re missing something, just send me a request back, and I'll send you that file again. So, that's a lot more efficient, and it allows us, rather than opening up multiple lines of communication and trying to send this and trying to send that, you’re really just getting everything at once. 

You can then load it on your computer and say, “Okay, this is great. I've got everything.” Or, you can say, ”Hey, you know what, this one I didn't quite get. Can you send me that again?” And so the server then knows, “Oh yeah, I'm still talking to the same person. I'm going to send that file to them.” 

So, all that extra traffic that you used to get has really been reduced. And so, what you're going to see is a lot quicker download times and a lot less latency on your network. So, that's going to benefit everybody. It's going to benefit the big Internet providers, but it's also going to help the smaller schools, and your networks, and the smaller schools as well.

Cristina Pawlica: As HTTP/3 implementation began, what does that process look like?

Rob Rawcliffe: Yeah, Google has actually been working on it for a number of years now, and they brought in Cloudflare, and they've also been doing a good amount of development and research on it as well. So, when you have that backbone with Google, and you're using Cloudflare, you're automatically getting that HTTP/3 protocol, where it can. Obviously, if your server or your desktop can't use that, then it's going to go back to the old protocol. 

But, if you've got a website that's getting served on HTTP/3, it's going to go through Google on HTTP/3, it's going to go through Cloudflare on HTTP/3, and if your network allows it, it’s going to come through to your desktop on HTTP/3 as well. 

So, usually you don't have to do anything. Everything happens in the background, which is really nice. So, most modern browsers nowadays are capable of receiving that as HTTP/3.

Cristina Pawlica: I understand how that can be really helpful for especially bigger organizations. How will it benefit schools, exactly?

Rob Rawcliffe: So, it's gonna take some of that latency off your network. So rather than seeing, you know, maybe 80% of your traffic is good data like images, videos, things like that, and 20% of it could just be that acknowledgement of, like, “Oh, I received that. No I didn't. Yes, I did. Bloody blah.” So, you're going to see that reduced. 

So, instead of 80% - 75% number, it's going to be way higher. It's going to be, you know, up to 90-95%. So, already, you're going to see bandwidth. And then when you multiply that across all the different computers that may be talking on your network, you're going to see some significant savings, you know, just transferring data.

Cristina Pawlica: Do Finalsite schools need to do anything on their end to implement it?

Rob Rawcliffe: I think that's the best thing about HTTP/3. It just works in the background. Google and Cloudflare have really made it so it’s seamless. And like said before, if you've got it enabled, it's going to show up on your browser automatically. You don't have to change any settings, do anything like that. 

If it doesn't, if you're not capable of receiving it, you're just going to go back to the old protocol by default, and you're just going to see the website just load as you would normally. So, yeah, it's really kind of a beautiful way that they've done it.

Cristina Pawlica: Excellent. Well, this has been another great episode of Tech Tuesday formed for tech directors, but layman can also listen in and understand, and learn a little bit about something about tech. 

Our next episode, we're going to talk about site speeds, but we also have some great topics coming up after that. So, stay tuned, and we'll see you next Tuesday.

Rob Rawcliffe: Thanks Christina.

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