[AfrICANN-discuss] Warnings of 'internet overload'

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Sun Jun 17 16:32:11 SAST 2007

Warnings of 'internet overload'

		By Spencer Kelly
Click presenter

As the flood of data across the internet continues to increase, there
are those that say sometime soon it is going to collapse under its own
weight. But that is what they said last year.

Back in the early 90s, those of us that were online were just sending
text e-mails of a few bytes each, traffic across the main US data
lines was estimated at a few terabytes a month, steadily doubling
every year.

But the mid 90s saw the arrival of picture-rich websites, and the
invention of the MP3. Suddenly each net user wanted megabytes of
pictures and music, and the monthly traffic figure exploded.

For the next few years we saw more steady growth with traffic again
roughly doubling every year.

But since 2003, we have seen another change in the way we use the net.
The YouTube generation want to stream video, and download gigabytes of
data in one go.

"In one day YouTube sends data equivalent to 75 billion e-mails, so
it's clearly very different," said Phil Smith, head of technology and
corporate marketing at Cisco Systems.

"The network is growing up, is starting to get more capacity than it
ever had, but it is a challenge.

"Video is real-time, it needs to not have mistakes or errors. E-mail
can be a little slow. You wouldn't notice if it was 11 seconds rather
than ten, but you would notice that on a video."

Spending our inheritance

Perhaps unsurprisingly, every year someone says the internet is going
to collapse under the weight of the traffic.

Looking at the figures, that seems a reasonable prediction.

"Back in the days of the dotcom boom in the late 90s, billions of
dollars were invested around the world in laying cables," said net
expert Bill Thompson.

"Then there was the crash of 2000 and since then we've been spending
that inheritance, using that capacity, growing services to fill the
space that was left over by all those companies that went out of

Router reliability

Much more high-speed optic fibre has been laid than we currently need,
and scientists are confident that each strand can be pushed to carry
almost limitless amounts of data in the form of light.

But long before a backbone wire itself gets overloaded, the strain may
begin to show on the devices at either end - the routers.

"If we take a backbone link across the Atlantic, there's billions of
bits of data arriving every second and it's all got to go to different
destinations," explained Mr Thompson.

	The real issue that people are going to face, and are already
noticing at home, is that ISPs are starting to cut back on the
bandwidth that is available to people in their homes
Bill Thompson, net expert

"The router sits at the end of that very high speed link and decides
where each small piece of data has to go. That's not a difficult
computational task, but it has to make millions of decisions a

The manufacturer of most of the world's routers is Cisco. When I
pushed them on the subject of router overload, they were
understandably confident.

"Routers have come a long way since they started," said Mr Smith. "The
routers we're talking about now can handle 92 terabits per second.

"We have enough capacity to do that and drive a billion phone calls
from those same people who are playing a video game at the same time
they're having a text chat."


Even if the routers can continue to take what the fibre delivers,
there is another problem - the internet is not all fibre.

A lot of the end connections, the ones that go to our individual home
computers, are made of decades-old copper.

"The real issue that people are going to face, and are already
noticing at home, is that ISPs are starting to cut back on the
bandwidth that is available to people in their homes," said Mr
Thompson. "They call it bandwidth shaping."

"They do this because they have a limited capacity to deliver to 100
or 200 homes, and if everybody's using the internet at the same time
then the whole thing starts to get congested. Before that happens they
cut back on the heavy users."


But digital meltdown is not the only threat facing the net. There are
other, more sudden, real world hazards which the net has to protect

Anything from terror attacks to, would you believe it shark bites, can
and have taken out major links and routers.

	It only takes an earthquake, as we saw at the end of last year, to
take out a significant segment of internet infrastructure
Paul Wood, MessageLabs

"There's a perception that the internet is very resilient," said Paul
Wood, senior analyst of security firm MessageLabs. "The way it was
designed means that if any particular part of it is disrupted then the
traffic will find another route.

"It only takes an earthquake, as we saw at the end of last year, to
take out a significant segment of internet infrastructure. Then the
traffic finds another route, but it goes over a very slow route, which
then becomes saturated and can't handle the bandwidth. Then you lose
the traffic and that part of the world goes dark for a while."

For decades the internet has kept pace with our demands on it. And
demand continues to grow.

And the service providers will continue to insist that the net will
survive, and the doomsayers will continue to insist that it is just
about to collapse.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/06/15 14:25:46 GMT


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