I've gotten some forwarded emails claiming that the Internet is doomed to collapse very soon, unless some big changes are made to the infrastructure. Is it true… is the Internet going to go poof and vanish in a cloud of greasy black smoke?
Is The Sky Really Falling?
Over the past decade, there have been voices crying in the technology desert claiming that the end is near... the Internet is doomed to collapse. In these apocalyptic forecasts, the culprits range from spam to viruses to YouTube, even to all out cyber-terrorism as potential reasons for the Great Crash of the Internet. Are these doomsday warnings correct? Is the Information Superhighway headed towards a dead end?
Although the origins of the Internet date back to the late 1960's, the Internet as we know it today came to full blossom in the early 90's with the advent of the Web, graphics, audio and video online. Vint Cerf, one of the early pioneers of the Internet, said in a 2007 interview with the The Guardian that some had predicted the end of the Internet 20 years ago when people "started using it en masse." Robert Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet networking technology, famously ate his own news article in front of a live audience in 1997 after writing in the 1995 article that he would "eat his words" if the Internet did not collapse by then.
Fast forward to a few years later, even after Metcalfe had to literally eat his words; claims about the inevitability of the Internet's collapse were still resounding. A lot of these claims were made in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. In November 2002, the BBC news ran an article online featuring researchers warning that the Internet was vulnerable to disaster or terrorist action. Concerns about cyber-terrorism became more prevalent after 9/11, prompting Internet Service Providers and webmasters to tighten up security.
Lions and Tigers and... Impending Doom!
The critics of the Internet's stability fanned the flames again in 2002, when WorldCom, then the largest global ISP, suffered major outages that left millions of business customers without web and email access for several days. Service providers blamed the hardware providers, and vice versa, prompting IDC analyst Melanie Posey to quip "There's a dead body rolled up in a rug somewhere..." It was only months earlier that WorldCom had filed for bankruptcy, in the wake of a massive accounting scandal.
In 2004, alarmists cited viruses and spam as portents of the Net's demise. Among them was Finnish computer scientist Hannu Kari who purported that malware and "bad people who want to create chaos on purpose" would be behind the Internet's collapse.
Last year, Deloitte & Touche released their take on the matter, asserting that global traffic would soon exceed the Internet's capacity. More recently, "network neutrality" has been put forward as a reason for potential Internet collapse. Network Neutrality is the moniker given to the fact that ISPs/Telecom companies do not base their rates on content or type of service. In other words, the service these companies provide is not restricted. An online Forbes article suggests that the controversy over network neutrality is the reason why many ISPs are delaying necessary upgrades to contend with the ever increasing amount of Internet users.
Video Killed the Radio Star - Is the Internet Next?
More recently, the hand-wringers are blaming the potential Internet crash on the recent popularity of videos on the web. One research firm suggested that the spike in video sites like YouTube could very well make the Internet reach its breaking point by 2010, unless backbone providers invest up to $137 billion in new capacity.
Professor Michael Kleeman of the University of California also has concerns about the fact that YouTube serves over 100 million videos per day. Kleeman is urging that more data compression should be used to reduce strain on the network, and that a system of triaging Internet traffic should be established to give priority to certain kinds of content. Without aggressive action soon, Kleeman says, video downloads and VoIP traffic threaten to overload the Internet's aging technology.
But not everyone agrees that the Internet is destined to collapse under its own weight any time soon. John Dvorak has noted in PC Magazine that none of the many predictions of impending Internet collapse over the past 20 years have come to fruition, and reminds us that when deficiencies in the infrastructure are noted, the Internet does tend to fix itself. New ways of allocating IP addresses, and the installation of ever-faster networking equipment are cited as examples. Dvorak says that in his opinion, the worst-case scenario is scattered, occasional outages, and reminds us that the Internet is "essentially run by phone companies, who know how to keep networks up."
As time goes on, this debate will surely continue. But perhaps the most compelling evidence for the Internet's resilience is the fact that in 2008 it is still intact. Despite the best efforts of miscreant malware creators to cripple the Internet, despite the onslaught of spam that accounts for nearly 90% of all email traffic, despite the heavy demands of Internet phone calling, and a surge in the popularity of online video, the Internet seems to be saying "I feel fine!"
My opinion on this is simple. The Internet cannot collapse, because the Internet MUST NOT collapse. If that sounds too simplistic, consider this. Much depends on the smooth functioning of the World Wide Web - banking, the financial markets, shopping, shipping, entertainment, medicine, along with so many other facets of the economy and daily life. Not to mention the telecommunications industry that operates most of the Internet... There is too much invested, and too much to lose.
If new hardware is needed, it will be invented. If new software is needed, it will be developed. Whatever financial investments that are required to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's Internet WILL be made. Agree? Disagree? Post your comments below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 21 Jan 2008
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Internet Collapse (Posted: 21 Jan 2008)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved