Internet still has plenty of room despite ‘glitch’, experts say

Reports claiming Web is in danger of becoming 'full' are based on 'a glitch with a simple fix'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 1:39am


Reports this week claimed that the internet is in danger of becoming "full" because the number of internet connections rose above a crucial limit.

But experts say that if internet users haven't noticed any issues by now, they won't see anything in the future, and that the Web is safe for now.

The issue revolved around a limit on the number of concurrent connections made to routers that underpin the internet. These operate in a similar manner to home routers spreading data about the global internet, rather than within a single address.

"Old hardware that is at least five years past its end-of-life sulked, because it ran out of memory," explained James Blessing, chair of the Internet Service Providers Association, which has close to 300 members across Britain.

"The problem revolved around TCAM memory - which is like an address book - getting full," Blessing said.

"The default settings have 512,000 entry spaces. It reached 512,000 entries last week when an internet service provider (ISP) had a problem and leaked some address space, which caused some older boxes at other ISPs to fail."

ISPs have known about this issue for a while. Cisco, which manufactures a large chunk of the hardware used by ISPs, put out a notice about the issue in May, but some ISPs have been slow to fix the problem.

"There is a fix for the issue - you can simply change some values on the boxes and then restart the entire machine," Blessing said. "Unfortunately these boxes have hundreds of customers attached to them, so getting permission from them all to do that is a pain."

That has caused some ISPs to put off the reboot, which would momentarily take websites connected to the box offline, until it caused a brief issue last week.

Because some of the properties that suffered issues are interlinked, it created a larger, domino-like problem for other sites.

The issue could be described as similar to the Y2K bug: something that could have caused major issues for the internet, but had a simple fix that - in most cases - was completed within plenty of time.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's tiny," Blessing said. "It's a glitch, glitches happen.

"If someone at an ISP hasn't noticed it by now, it's too late, as the default table is over 512,000, so nothing that had this problem is now connected to the internet and working," he said.

"We've had the glitch and nothing further will happen now concerning the 512,000 bug."