Building the Faster and More Reliable Internet

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Building the Faster and More Reliable Internet

Driven by mobile applications and video, Internet traffic is expected to more than double by 2013.  In the short history of the Internet, we've grown accustomed to its increasing speed, increasing reliability, and increasing adaptability.  But unless two major challenges are addressed, the limitations of the underlying infrastructure will begin to create barriers to progress in the very near future. 

The first fundamental Internet challenge that needs to be addressed is resiliency.  As Bennett Daviss of New Scientist1 magazine reminds us, the past decade has shown that the Internet is more vulnerable to accidents, earthquakes, or misplaced ships' anchors than anyone expected.  As he describes it, there are perhaps hundreds of places around the world where the Net seems to be "hanging by a thread." 

That's because much of the Internet's physical infrastructure is decades old and badly in need of upgrades.  But tearing up sections of the network and rebuilding them from scratch is not feasible.  Nor is it likely that governments and telecom companies will bear the enormous costs of laying extra connections simply to insure against temporary disruptions. 

So, how can we realistically make the Internet more resilient?

Nick McKeown, a computer scientist at Stanford University in California, thinks he has the answer.  According to McKeown, the key to improving the Internet is to improve its traffic controllers — in other words, its routers. 

There are millions of routers that link up the thousands of networks that make up the Internet.  They direct the flow of traffic and when a connection breaks, they step in to help divert traffic around the break.

Unfortunately, at the present time, routers can be very slow to find a way around a blockage.  That delay can result in backups so huge that messages end up being discarded.

The impact of that type of loss could be huge.  Consider what's at stake:

  • First, online commerce is now worth more than $7 trillion annually, representing about 12 percent of global GDP — and it's growing rapidly.
  • Second, even in the physical world, modern businesses depend on the Internet for everything from monitoring the inventory in stores to monitoring what customers are saying about products on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Third, electric and water utilities use the Internet for information exchange and remote diagnostics.  Delayed or lost messages could lead to costly errors and major service disruptions. 
  • Fourth, banks and stock exchanges around the world swap financial data via the Internet...

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