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Lost on the Internet: Hitting the 512K Wall

August 27, 2014

Houston, we have a problem.

The Internet has gotten too big for its britches (its britches being some of the underlying technology that moves all those emails, videos, online purchases and everything else traversing the Internet). Consequently, some of that digital traffic doesn’t reach its intended destination.

Communication over the Internet depends on two things: the Domain Name System (DNS) that tells data where to go, and the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing table that tells data how reach its destination … that is, what road to take via networks, subnets and routers.

In 2001, the BGP consisted of 100,000 routes. By 2010, routes passed 300,000 on their way to more than 500,000 in 2014. The problem is that many of the routers in use today can handle only 512,000 routes (or the 512K, as the artificial cap has become known). Unable to hold onto all the potential routes, a router may crash, slow to a crawl, or ignore the data traffic altogether.

This came as no surprise, at least to some. Network professionals and router manufacturers have anticipated hitting this wall for some time. The solution is relatively simple, yet has been largely ignored by network admins or their management in a best-practices breakdown: increase the capacity by tweaking the routers you have or install new, higher capacity routers.

“In 2013 we took advantage of routine maintenance to increase route table capacity on all of our installed routers to accommodate anticipated growth, alleviating any impact on our customers as a result of this occurrence,” said Ronnie Frames, Peak 10 vice president of network and cloud infrastructure. “We have a lot of smart people in our organization who have been on top of the growth trends all along, making sure our customers are protected.”

By this November, Peak 10 will have replaced all of its units with new, high capacity routers capable of handling a routing table with more than one million entries.

The world of computing is no stranger to these self-created landmines. Fifteen years ago the world held its collective breath, wondering if computing systems would come crashing down with the turn of the millennium (the Y2K threat) because most software didn’t account for this inevitability. We’re still here.

The IPv4 networking protocol is another one. Every machine that is on a TCP/IP network (a local network or the Internet has a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address like your street address. These are 32-bit addresses, and the number of unique addresses available works out mathematically to just under 4.3 billion possible combinations. Already there are 13 billion devices connected to the Internet, according to our technology partner, Cisco. We’re about to hit another wall.

Work began in 1998 on the next generation, what is known as the IPv6 protocol. These are 128-bit addresses. That works out to some ridiculous number (no doubt 512K and 4.3 billion were once considered ridiculous, too) on the order of 100 addresses for every atom in the world. That ought to be enough.

Still, as of May 2014, 96 percent of all Internet traffic is IPv4, which does not interoperate with IPv6; translation products are necessary for that. But, again, in anticipation of the inevitable, Peak 10 is IPv6 ready and has been since 2010.

“Best practices are not only about managing and maintaining current systems, whether that’s hardware or software, security or compliance, storage or disaster recovery,” said Frames. “It’s about sustaining a complete ecosystem that includes all of that, as well as technology partners, top talent and best-of-breed products and technologies that will help bring our customers into the future.”

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest