Experts Sound Alarm on Internet Routing
The big problem relates to BGP routing tables, directories of where things are located on the Internet that enable big backbone routers to do their job.
Right now, the Internet is growing so fast that these BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) tables are ballooning in size. The time is fast approaching when equipment won't have enough processor power and memory to handle them, according to experts at NGN. There are only a couple of years to come up with an alternative, and right now, far too little work is being done in this area, they add.
"There is almost no research and no activity in the IP routing space," said Scott Bradner, an acknowledged expert on routers and a senior technical advisor at Harvard University. He was speaking in an NGN session enitled "The Future of the Net."
"I really don't know what we're going to do," he added. "And I don't mean to give you a good feeling about this."
Bradner underscored the scale of the problem with a chart showing that the number of entries in BGP routing tables has risen from 10,000 to 100,000 in the past six years, and is continuing to accelerate (see below). The number of entries could hit the one million mark in two to three years, experts say.
This growth results from the proliferation of Internet devices, each of which requires an address. As devices are added, the number of networks grow, and each of these networks must be added to the BGP routing table. This growth is snowballing as new types of device arrive, such as wireless appliances, and as the Internet continues expanding its geographic reach.
David Newman, president of Network Test Inc., estimates that if router memory is to keep pace with the growth of the routing tables, each router will require gigabits of memory in just two years.
Research establishments aren't putting enough effort into solving the fundamental problem, according to Bradner. Venture capitalists are also shying away from tackling the IP routing issue, because it requires a high level of expertise and requires going face-to-face with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), which between them dominate the backbone router market.
Startup competitors in this space -- which include Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Charlotte's Web Networks, Hyperchip Inc., Pluris Inc., IronBridge Networks Inc., and potentially Procket Inc. -- aren't exactly tackling the BGP scaleability issue either. Instead, they are adding incremental improvements to performance of routers themselves.
"This isn't about building a better box, this is about Internet architecture," says Newman. "Routers will either need a whole lot more memory or we'll have to throw out the Internet architecture and start over."
Judy Estrin, a former CTO of Cisco and the CEO and founder of Packet Design Inc., says the routing issue is central to her company's research initiatives (see Estrin Launches "Perpetual Startup" ).
Estrin also believes that standards designed to help alleviate routing problems in the network core, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), do nothing to fix it. Instead, submits Estrin, the routing crisis needs long-term thinking about a solution that retains the IP architecture. Estrin, speaking at an NGN panel entitled "The Internet Scaleability Crisis," said her company is focusing on a way to fix the routing problem within the IP architecture.
"My problem with MPLS is it's limited to confined environments. It's a good interim solution, but I know there are better ways to do it with IP," said Estrin.
Unfortunately, Estrin wasn't eager to divulge her approach. Internet users can only hope she -- and others in the field -- are working fast enough.
-- R. Scott Raynovich, executive editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com