Who broke the Internet?

By 12th September 2014 No Comments

Switch-Ethernet-ConnectionThe Internet is more complex and more brittle than most people would like to believe: “The internet – you have no idea. It’s held together with chewing gum and string”. (Guardian article [1])

It sounds like a joke, but on Tuesday 12th August, major websites around the world became unavailable, or slowed down just enough to become un-usable.  The cause for this was not a cyber attack but a US based ISP, Verizon, dividing some groups of IP addresses into smaller ones [1] combined with an arbitrary routing table size limitation in older Cisco routers [2]. 

The scale of the problems caused by such a routine administrative task, only emphasises the fact that the Internet was not planned, but just grew in an adhoc manner and some of those inherent problems have yet to be addressed.

The Mobile, Messaging & Middleware Technologies Research Unit [3] , 3MT for short,  keeps an eye on such events, their causes and any potential solutions.  One of the promising research areas is to look at alternative Architectures for a Future Internet and how these problems can be avoided. The PRISTINE project [4] investigates the suitability of the Recursive Inter-Network Architecture (RINA), and provides advanced prototypes for evaluation. Put simply:

  “RINA tries to capture the general principles in computer networking that apply to everything.”

As such it does not try to “fix” the Internet with a superficial layer of patches, but rather re-addresses some of the design limitations to make inter-networking more reliable, predictable and cheaper.  A discussion of some of the Internet flaws and description of how RINA avoids it, are available on the project blog [5].

This work is of increasing relevance in a world, where critical software services are build on middleware platforms using Software Defined Networks which are in turn build on traditional Internet infrastructure.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same principle holds for the software stack.



[1] http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100283215/the-day-the-internet-broke/

[2] http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2014/08/13/bgp-routing-table-size-limit-blamed-for-tuesdays-website-outages/

[3] http://www.tssg.org/research/units/3MT/

[4] http://www.ict-pristine.eu

[5] http://ict-pristine.eu/?p=270

Submitted by: Micheal Crotty, 3MT, Telecommunications Software & Systems Group