Vint Cerf in London

Vint Cerf, often described as the ‘father’ of the Internet, was the keynote speaker at the Visions of Computer Science conference, which I attended yesterday. Although he doesn’t like this moniker (it implies he did it single-handedly and he’s always keen to stress that he was part of a team) the reason for it is that he co-invented the basic protocol of the Net (TCP/IP) and was there in the early days of the ARPANET, the forerunner to today’s Internet. He is now employed as Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist.

Vint pointed out the enormous growth of the Internet, remarking that there are now half a million computer servers (i.e. hosts that provide some kind of service such as Web or email routing) on the system and a couple of billion ‘terminators’ at the ‘edge’ – the end user devices such as a home PC or a mobile phone.

This enormous growth presents huge challenges and he argued that the next few months are likely to be “dramatic” in the world of the Internet. He then went on to elaborate some of the issues that are coming to the fore, including the problem of network addressing.

Network addressing uses something called IPv4. This is the coded address that is given to every single device on the network (even your home PC). When he was helping to create the original designs for the Internet he designed this address to make use of 32-bits of data. This limits the number of devices that can be on the Net to around 4 billion (2 to the power 32). He admits that at the time he didn’t think that this would ever be reached, but we are fast approaching that limit. Vint speculated that we would hit the limit by mid-2010, if not before. The answer is a new addressing system called IPv6 which offers many billions more potential addresses. Internet Service Providers (ISP), network operates and the rest of us need to start moving to IPV6 and he mentioned Google’s efforts in this regard. (See ipv6.google.com).

During the questions and answers section I asked him about the capacity of the existing Internet to cope with heavy data uses like video. There have been many recent reports in the UK press about the Net being close to capacity. Vint agreed that this was an issue, but said he was not overly concerned. The main backbone of the Internet will be fine, since the fibre optics involved have plenty of spare capacity. The problem arises the nearer one gets to the end user (the last mile problem), which is where there may well be an issue. Vint argued that researchers and Internet companies need to rethink the process of distributing video over the Net and rely less on streaming and more on storage and caching locally nearer the actual users. He called this process ‘edge storage’. As I know that Google and Microsoft have been rolling plans out to distribute their data centres nearer to users, I suspect we will hear a lot more about this in coming months.

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One Response to “Vint Cerf in London”

  1. Raza Rizvi Says:

    It is less than 2 years to the first exhaustion point, according to Martin Levy (Hurricane Electric IPv6 Strategy Director), as stated in the 3rd European Peering Forum.

    http://www.peering-forum.eu/epf3/presentations/day1/Hurricane-Electric-IPv6-Peering-Martin-Levy-EPF-dublin.pdf

    Raza

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