The internet is DYING: sites collapse as 512k limit is breached

James Temperton
14 Aug 2014
Data centre

The internet's ageing and giant network 'map' has reached an arbitrary software limit as engineers scrabble for a fix

The internet is now too big for its straining infrastrcture with engineers frantically patching old software collapsing under the weight of too much traffic. Network boffins around the globe started to notice problems earlier this week as some of the internet's ageing hardware began to collapse.

An arbitrary half-million limit on the number of routes carried by millions of Cisco routers has caused outages at scores of data centres. The bizarre limit, known as 512k, is caused by a random software limitation on certain routers that is now causing the internet to stop working. When there are too many routes on one router it can no longer cope and people can't connect to certain websites and services.

The obscure software limitation forms a key part of the internet's infrastructure. Alongside the Domain Name System, a kind of phonebook for all websites, the global routing table is a massive online map that guides traffic through the maze of networks. When either system fails certain websites and services can be severed from the internet.

The issue has been known about for some time, with the 512k limit on routes a known limitation on routers made by Cisco and other internet infrastructure companies. Routers affected are those that run the internet and not routers used by people to connect to the internet in homes and offices.

It is easy enough to fix but internet service providers have been unwilling to do so for fear of causing major outages. Now that the limit has been reached on many routers people are starting to complain about patchy internet access, with websites unreachable and access patchy.

Network engineers either need to install new hardware or increase the routers' capacity and reboot it. Carrying out either of these fixes will result in the router being unavailable, leaving all routes connecting to it effectively dead until it starts up again.

The scale of the problem isn't clear with experts speculating that it is likely to fan out as more routers are affected. Websites and people it affects are also likely to seem random as specific routers reach their 512k limit. Issues are likely to continue for days and possibly even weeks as engineers scramble to upgrade routers running at full capacity.

Problems with the internet's core infrastructure are set to continue as another major software limit approaches. The internet's main routing system, known as IPv4 is reaching the limit of addresses it can handle. With many billions of devices already connected, IPv4 is at breaking point.

Concerns have been raised since the early 1980s that IPv4 would eventually fail but the proposed move to a new system called IPv6 has been slow. Both the 512k and IPv4 problems hark back to panic at the end of the 1990s around the Y2K bug. Experts have been keen to halt panic that the internet is set to collapse, pointing out that the 512k limit can easily be fixed.

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