What would you do if the Internet ceased to exist?
It’s hard to believe that just a couple of decades ago there was no online or offline; no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. People watched television through cable, and entertainment was a different world entirely.
I was a child when the Internet was just starting to become the behemoth it is today. When faced with that same question, I don’t have an easy answer.
Some people were forced to experience life offline last week, when large parts of the Internet were overwhelmed and shut down.
No, it wasn’t Y2K part two, and it wasn’t space debris destroying Satellites as happened in the film Gravity…
Instead, the Internet fell to its own hubris.
In other words, it got too big too fast and couldn’t handle it’s own growing pains. May I present to you as a day that may go down in history the day North America went offline: 512K day.
For those of you don’t spend your life online, a week ago Tuesday large swaths of webpages and networks suffered from a series of outages and disruptions.
According to Vancouver-based internet monitoring firm BGPMon, these outages were “well above the daily average” and the number of affected systems and addresses were “the highest we’ve seen in the last 12 months.”
Now, most of these outages were restricted to the United States and some parts of Canada. (I personally was very frustrated when I couldn’t marathon the last season of Breaking Bad on Netflix)
Many Internet service providers (ISPs) experienced technical problems that resulted in bad service.
There is a reason for that. Surprisingly enough, it’s a hardware issue.
The Internet is built on IPs, which stand for Internet Protocol. Think of them like Postal Codes (or ZIP codes for our readers in the United States.) IPs allow computers to Network together while being aware of where they are in relation to each other.
Right now there are two versions of Internet Protocol:
With the growth of the Internet it is expected that the number of unused IPv4 addresses will eventually run out. This is because every device , including tablets, computers, smartphones and game consoles, that connect to the Internet requires an address.
IPV6 is the next generation of Internet Protocol – it allows for many more addresses than a measly 4 billion.
These IPs need to connect to routers.
Internet traffic is designed to flow in the most efficient way. This means frequent updates between IPs and Routers that describe how networks should connect. Some routers, namely the ones that still function with IPV4, can only accommodate 512,000 of those updates in memory.
The problems lies in that the majority of the Internet is still running on IPV4, and although people are hurrying to upgrade the system, this exchange is just moving too slowly.
That’s what caused the Internet crash last week. Hence the name 512K Day.
According to the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG), starting at 4-5 AM EST on August 12, multiple ISPS were having major issues. These included but were not limited to:
As we all know, problems with ISPs mean problems for the rest of us. Many websites were completely knocked offline as a result, and many more were running at a fraction of their usual speed.
As a result of these problems, some Web hosting companies, such as LiquidWeb, and its sites had been effectively knocked offline.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?
The issue, which many people have known about for a long time, happened because those 512K routes were exceeded.
I’ll stress this now; the ISPs were prepared for this to happen, just not as soon as it did.
We all have Internet service provider Verizon to thank for this. A bug forced Verizon to dump 15,000 new internet destinations onto the network for about 10 minutes.
That’s much faster and heavier than the IPs and the Routers were prepared for.
This dump of addresses shoved some of this old IPV4’s past the all important 512K marker. Once that maximum was reached, three possible things happened:
- The router can switch to a slower mode, resulting in sluggish performance.
- Some destinations may not end up in the table at all, making them unreachable.
- The network operator may have to reboot the router, resulting in a few minutes of instability.
Dutch Internet expert Teun Vink explained:
“Some routing tables hit 512K routes today. Some old hardware and software can’t handle that and either crash or ignore newly learned routes. So this may cause some disturbances in the Force.”
More alarming? It’s not over yet.
END OF THE NET?
Now, the Verizon bug was fixed but really it just spend along the timetable.
Last week was a taste of what’s to come in the approaching months. Network analysts are estimating that the number of routes will exceed 512K within a month.
However, it really isn’t all that bad. Like I said before, ISPs have known this was coming for quite a while. They are updating the infrastructure of the Internet to allow for routers and IPs to exceed that 512K marker.Newer hardware, like the IPV6s, are completely unaffected. Most of the damage is restricted to the older and smaller parts of the Internet.
Cisco even warned its users about this back in May of 2014.
That means this 512K issue is more of a mild nuisance than a threat to the Net.
However, as the IPs are being updated, Internet users can expect to experience:
- Overall internet slowness if they rely on an internet service provider that’s affected.
- Slowness for certain websites or services that rely on affected internet service providers, even if their own ISP is not affected.
While the Internet sorts itself out, maybe all of us should pick up a good book, huh?