We’d venture to guess that the average Internet user doesn’t think much about the type of IP address they use. On the contrary, they just want their device, let it be the latest smartphone (opens in a new tab) or a corporate laptop (opens in a new tab), just to instantly connect to the internet without any intervention, and without any thought. Fortunately, most devices these days can perform exactly to this standard.

That being said, there are times when some thought is needed, and the type of connection can certainly matter. In these situations, understanding the type of connection you are on can make a huge difference. Ultimately, an IP address is simply a string of numbers, with a few dots in place, that identifies the user on the Internet. Finding your own IP address is fairly simple, with any number of websites including Google directly with a search bar entry of “What is my IP address” providing this information.

IP addresses are often classified in different ways. One common method is static addresses versus dynamic addresses, while another method is to use public addresses versus private addresses.

Step up the game

When a user goes directly online using their Internet Service Provider (ISP), they are assigned a dynamic address from the pool of addresses that the provider uses in rotation. A more knowledgeable user may want a higher level of protection, connecting via a virtual private network (opens in a new tab), and this way their true location and identity is hidden because the IP address they are using points back to the VPN provider, not directly to the user because they are using a proxy address. In addition, the data is encrypted at a high level of security between the VPN provider and the user so that it is highly secure.

Nothing better than being at home

Also note that while a VPN has many uses (opens in a new tab)it’s not the only way to stay anonymous online.

An alternative is a residential proxy, which allows the user to connect to an intermediate proxy server (opens in a new tab). This then allows the user to remain anonymous while online. However, unlike a VPN, there is no encryption of data traffic, so it can be intercepted. Calculating through the alternate IP address, which appears to be from an individual user, all requests appear to be from any other individual user. In fact, users can also choose a local location so that they can appear in the country, or even in a specific city.

Residential proxies tend to be useful for small web scraping activities. They are also useful for accessing geo-restricted content, such as country-specific video streams. A major shortcoming is that residential proxies tend to be more expensive because each IP address provided appears to come from an individual residence via an ISP, but this is also what makes it more reliable.

Close up of a web server rack.

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Economies of scale

The opposite of a residential proxy is the data center proxy. Unlike every IP address traced back to a residential address like in the residential proxy which works through the residential ISP network, rather in the data center proxy, the IP address appears to originate from a data center. Therefore, it does not appear as an individual user, but often has faster speeds when going through the corporate Internet connection of the data center.

Having all the IP addresses in one place, namely the data center, also makes it more affordable. There are also options to appear in a different country or city so that the user appears in the region when accessing the website. While a residential proxy is offered by an ISP, a data center proxy provider is typically a cloud service provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) (opens in a new tab)or Google Cloud.

The typical use case scenario for a data center proxy is a larger web scraping operation, as the provider will be able to offer millions of IP addresses so that the website to be scraped for data can be consulted many times. A data center proxy, unlike a VPN, does not encrypt data because it does not create the data tunnel used by a VPN. At first glance, that would seem like a downside, and from a privacy and security perspective, a data center proxy is.

However, not encrypting the data also has its advantages. The first is that there is a computational overhead to encrypt the data in 256-bit encryption and decrypt it at the other end, so a data center proxy can provide faster throughput. The second benefit is that proxy traffic from the data center can pass through countries, like China or Iraq, that block a VPN because the traffic is unencrypted.

In conclusion

The fast speed of a data center proxy is what supports it and makes it the proxy of choice for high-speed web scraping applications. By running this through a data center, centralized computing power can be harnessed, making it a more affordable option.

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