In this issue:
o Roto-Rooter for the Net: 1-800-DRAIN-ME
o Corrections (Simson Garfinkel corrects James Gosling)
o Announcements (I.D. Magazine 1996 Design Review, call for submissions.)
This issue of MEME is dedicated to Bandwidth, Blockages, Brownouts -- a close look at wether the Internet is teetering on the verge of collapse, overstuffed by too much data.
"In the last three months, traffic to our site has doubled," Mark Kosters tells me, "We have a root name-server at InterNIC, and the number of queries is now at 230 to 250 queries per second." The site Kosters is talking about lies at a major traffic center for the Internet -- Network Solutions, in Virginia -- they're the people who decide who gets what domain name (burgerking.com for instance, or bennahum.com), the closest thing the Net has to a center.
Kosters is worried; from his vantage point, as principal investigator for the InterNIC, he must keep abreast of technical problems fouling the world's largest computer network. Kosters claims that the Net appears stretched to the breaking point, or perhaps, "shredding point" is a better description: as you read this there's a better than 50-50 chance that somewhere a major switching point, or node, on the Net is teetering on the verge of yet another brownout. "MAE-East," Kosters explains, "has a problem with congestion. It goes down quite often, once every couple of hours. Packets wind up getting dropped."
Translation: MAE-East is one of the major points where Internet traffic meets, gets re-routed, and then sent off one step closer to its destination. Located near Washington D.C., MAE-East is a kind of barometer for the state-of-the-Net. Every time MAE- East collapses under a tidal-wave of data, packets of information simply disappear, swallowed into a black-hole of inadequate bandwidth. As a user, the symptoms are subtle, often nothing more than an alert-box in your Web browser telling you that the host is "unreachable." We often assume that means a lot of other people are trying to access the same Web page -- that's one explanation -- another is that you've just experienced a temporary Internet brownout. Your packets just went down the drain.
When I first discovered this problem, I didn't really believe it. For instance, this fall, you may have come across this story, or one similar to it:
A major brownout on the Internet in mid-September was just a foretaste of the online downtimes to come, say local experts. "I anticipate it happening again," says Dan Benjamin, a local technology consultant. "It's just a matter of time." The brownout resulted in many Internet users unable to use the World Wide Web or other Internet services such as E-mail. "It took down entire parts of the Internet -- it was severe," Benjamin says. "Nobody was prepared for it to happen. The hardware in place simply became too overworked. There was too much traffic."
That little blurb ran November 24th, 1995, in the Orlando Business Journal, a local Florida paper. Similar stories reared their heads in Inc., Internet Week, and Computergram International -- Internet brownout didn't exactly make for front-page news