The Internet Needs An Upgrade

https://i1.wp.com/drhurd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Internet.jpgFor a few hours on August 12, many Internet users found they could not connect, experienced slowdowns, or were locked out of their online accounts to many of their favorite websites. Among those affected include the websites of eBay, Amazon, Autotrader, LinkedIn, Time Warner and Verizon. The problem was caused by the 15,000 new Internet destinations being dumped by Verizon onto the network for about 10 minutes. Contrary to popular belief at the time, this was not a connection issue, but a technical issue with the structure of the Internet itself. This was also not an attack on the Internet, but it was a warning. Andree Toonk, founder and lead developer for BGPMon, said, “we basically got a small taste of what is possibly about to happen. Hopefully this is a wakeup call.” It all comes down to problems with “router configuration, the explosive growth of connected devices, and IPv4 running out of addresses.” Tech-savvy users dubbed this event as “512K Day” or the “512K bug.” Has the Internet died? Hardly, but it will need to be fixed in order to keep running in the future. If no action is taken, the Internet might as well be dead.

The sooner the Internet is fixed, the better it is for everyone. It is always good to deal with apparent problems now, as they will always return later. We need to fix the problem now because if the Internet overloads again, web users can potentially lose a lot of data on websites they visit. However, “soon” does always not mean “easy.” The two issues with the Internet that need to be fixed are the standard router configuration and the IPv4, Internet Protocol version 4, both of which need to be updated to accommodate for more online traffic. Both also need time and effort for the entire world, let alone one company, to transition into. As for the third factor in this issue, we cannot help the constant growth of devices that connect to the Internet. It is inevitable that as technology continues to grow, more and more people will use devices that need the Internet to carry out everyday tasks, like your smartphone. All we can do at the moment is allocate extra space for the increasing number of Internet users and devices.

A lot of Internet Service Providers’ (ISP) routers are configured to run on Border Gate Protocol (BGP), which is how information is sent from one computer to another across the Internet. It is like if I connect from my computer to any given website, BGP is used to send information back and forth between my computer to that website. That is considered as 1 connection between 2 routers. Most routers used by major companies can support 512,000 connections, “512 rows of 1,000 ports,” at any given time, as opposed to a household router that can only connect to a few devices. Routers were limited to 512,000 links because it is an arbitrary number that computer designers chosen years ago to ensure the routers were cost effective and would retain a practical lifespan. “You don’t make something so capable that it can operate for a hundred years as the hardware cost would be enormous.” The problem here is that some major companies that use BGP routers have recently exceeded the 512,000 connections limit. “Routers that hit the memory limit could slow down, lose data, or crash.” The solution to this is to replace old routers or to restart the routers after adjusting their limit. However, Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, states, “manually rebooting millions of routers is not an easy task, nor one that many companies have worked into their maintenance schedule, because they did not know when they would be affected. In hindsight, companies should have been more proactive about addressing the issue.” Replacing the routers not only require time, for installing the routers and for when the company’s servers will be down as the system reboots, but it is also expensive just to upgrade their old routers. It will be a costly venture, but it will maintain Internet stability in the mean time.

Another way that will help relieve the current stress on the BGP is by switching from IPv4 to IPv6. “IPv4 provides about 4.3 billion 32-bit addresses” while “IPv6 will provide 340 undecillion 128-bit addresses.” This matters because each device created is assigned an IP address, which is used to identify itself on the Internet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a home computer, smartphone, or company server; each one has an IP address. There are also no 2 IP addresses that are the same. It is like your computer’s “finger print,” in comparison to human fingers. However, unlike humans, there is a limit to how many IP addresses are available, and we are nearing that limit of 4.3 billion addresses. By switching from IPv4 to IPv6, we would get many more available IP addresses. IPv6 is already on its way to becoming the new standard, but 512 Day showed that many companies still haven’t switch over from IPv4. One reason that the companies may not have switched is, as Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, puts it, “moving to IPv6 generally means you have to replace a lot of older hardware and this is an expense many have put off for too long.” Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, also added, “transiting to a new communications protocol is difficult when the older protocol has already reached critical mass. IPv6 hasn’t really taken off yet, and that is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.” McGregor also addressed why the switch isn’t done instantly by saying, “the entire industry does not just drop one protocol and adopt another overnight. This happens over time as new products are introduced and communications platforms are upgraded.” The Guardian also adds, “IPv6 requires every single device on the connection to switch over – and it is not backwards-compatible. That means that it is difficult to upgrade in a piecemeal fashion: it is all or nothing, and once a device switches over to IPv6, it can’t talk to things using the old connection.” This means more and more devices will be made with only the IPv6 configuration and they cannot connect to old devices that use IPv4. Users can get around this by either get a device that can switch between IPv4 and IPv6 or they can save their data from the old device onto a portable memory device, like a flash drive or a SD card, and move it to the new device. Users should buy devices that use IPv6 to help ease the switch from IPv4 and to improve Internet stability.

 

Some may ask why can’t we remove IP addresses that are not being used to free more space on the Internet. This is impossible to do as IP addresses can linger on the Internet, not being updated but still there. Even if the IP address is confirmed to not being used, another device takes up the IP address so the address is being used and there is no need to remove them. Almost every single IP address created is occupied, where the total number of IP addresses is nearing the IPv4’s limit of 4.3 billion addresses. This is the number one reason why we need to fully switch from IPv4 to IPv6, which has 340 undecillion 128-bit addresses.

Even though IPv4 and old BPG routers are coming to the end of their life cycle, it does not mean the Internet is terminal. The Internet just needs to be updated, sooner than later. The sooner the update happens, the easier it is to deal with problems if any occur because the old systems are still working and we can fall back onto them if something goes wrong. We do not want to wait until IPv4 to run out of addresses or when websites constantly have more than 512,000 people connecting at the same time to make the switch. That would strain the Internet to the point of breaking. For right now, we still have some time to make and settle into the update; however, we are not out of the woods yet. Andree Toonk predicts “it’s not unlikely we will see some slowness or instability over the next few weeks. If people don’t fix it, it will happen again, and there will always be people who won’t fix it.”

https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24714149/what-broke-the-internet/

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28786954

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/internet-outages-slowness-spike-expected-with-512k-1.2737819

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/ebay-suffered-its-tenth-major-outage-this-year–but-is-the-internet-really-full-up-9670163.html

http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/the-internet-broke-yesterday-and-it-was-all-because-of-the-number-512/story-fnjwnhzf-1227023949109

http://www.technewsworld.com/story/80891.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11030725/How-an-arbitrary-number-broke-the-internet-yesterday.html

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/14/internet-full-isp

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2014/aug/15/internet-broken-sharks-netflix-cables

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/08/13/heres-why-your-internet-might-have-been-slow-on-tuesday/

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