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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cerf: 'The Internet will not collapse'

By Mark Ollig

Vinton Cerf recently gave a lecture before the Washington DC chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Cerf, along with Robert Khan, developed the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) networking code, which makes it possible for us to navigate through the Internet.

During this lecture, he wore Google Glass.

Google Glass is worn like a pair of eyeglasses.

As you may recall from the May 6 column, Google Glass wirelessly connects to the Internet and has “a small rectangular glass cube display screen, attached to what looks like an eyeglasses frame.”

Cerf activated Google Glass’ connection to the Internet using a single finger-tap on the side of its frame.

“OK Glass, take a picture,” Cerf commanded. “It just took a picture of this group of people here,” he said while pointing out into the audience.

Google Glass will go into full-production in 2014, and is one of the newest devices being connected to the Internet.

In 1973, when Cerf and Khan were doing the design work for what turned out to be the Internet we use today, Cerf brought up this question: “How many addresses should we have on this experimental Internet?”

They didn’t know the answer, so instead they asked how many computers would there be per country in the future. Now, we must remember they were discussing this 40 years ago, when computers were large, room-filling, time-sharing mainframes. There were not many of these around, so they reasoned, “16 million mainframes per country.” This was a very high number – and one they thought somewhat excessive.

Next, they needed to know how many countries there were in the world.

“We didn’t know because there wasn’t any Google to look it up,” quipped Cerf, as the audience laughed.

I assume they eventually figured it out.

Next, they came up with a maximum length of 32 bits for each individually addressable device connected to the Internet. An example would be This is an IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) address for Google.

IPv4 provided a unique address, (think Zip code) for up to 4,294,967,296 separate devices connected to the Internet.

It was Jan. 1, 1983, when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) changed its networking technology to TCP/IP. This date is considered by many to be when the “modern Internet” was born.

Since then, Cerf said the Internet has grown by a factor of a million or more.

New IPv4 addresses became exhausted last June. As a result, much larger 128-bit addressable IPv6 protocols began being deployed in the routers and servers of Internet Service Providers (ISP) all across the Internet.

An example of an IPv6 address is: 2001:0DB8:AC10:FE01:0000:0000:0000:0000.

IPv6 will allow 340 trillion, trillion, trillion, unique device addresses. This is equal to 340 with 36 zero’s behind it. I learned it also equals 340 undecillion.

Folks, we should not have to worry about changing out IPv6 for a very long, long time.

“I used to tell jokes that every light bulb in the world would someday have an IP address, Cerf mused. I can’t tell jokes about that anymore because somebody sent me an IPv6 radio enabled LED light bulb.”

He stated how just about every appliance and device in our homes and businesses will someday be connected to the Internet.

Danny Hillis is an engineer and scientist who graduated and worked at MIT designing and developing computer hardware and software.

He spoke earlier this year about his concern with the Internet developing into a colossal network interconnected into every aspect of our infrastructure. He feels this leaves it too easily open to cyber-attack, or even a “meltdown.”

Hillis suggested we have a “Plan B” or an alternate network, in case the Internet we use today becomes compromised.

Cerf understands the Internet is ubiquitous – every day it is being connected to more devices in new locations.

He acknowledges the Internet will continue to grow and get even larger, and raised the question: “Does that mean it’s all going to collapse?”

Cerf answered: “I don’t think so . . . I think it’s going to be pretty hard to shut it down.”

“It is stunningly resistant,” he added.

Cerf revealed there are changes being made to strengthen the Internet against the problems we read about.

While looking out at the audience, Cerf asked them to consider all the malware (malicious software used to disrupt computer operation) floating around the Internet. He then asked if they weren’t amazed by how the Internet still works.

“This is not a static system,” he said, referring to the Internet. “This thing is still evolving, even though the design was done 40 years ago.”

Cerf spoke reflectively about knowing all the things needed to happen on the Internet (to make it operate); and how he found it astonishing it works at all.

Yours truly chuckled when Vinton Cerf, the “Father of the Internet,” acknowledged to the audience that upon seeing a webpage come up correctly, he sometimes still says “Holy crap, it actually worked!”