A numbers game
I am pushing way beyond my graphene-thick understanding of microprocessor and internet addressing technologies, but I am intrigued by stuff I have heard recently, and hope that someone out there can shed more light on the subject.
Current chip technology mostly works in 64-bit ‘words’. In other words a chip can process a single 64-bit word, or two 32-bit words every cycle. That’s handy, because a 64-bit processor can deal with two internet addresses that conform to the 32-bit IPv4 internet addressing scheme at the same time, speeding up data flows around the internet .
Unfortunately, the world has pretty much run out of 32-bit addresses, just as the BYOD and M2M initiatives are adding billions of devices to the internet, all competing with me for the network’s attention We are having to move to IPv6, which uses a 128-bit address scheme. That means it will take most chips two cycles to deal with an IP address, effectively quadrupling the time required to send a packet on its way. (Or you could split the address in two, run them in parallel through two 64-bit cores, and hope that what emerges still makes sense.)
Actually, because IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist for a long time to come, probably it will take even more cycles to resolve an IP address because the processor must translate addresses between the two incompatible schemes.
In addition, router tables, the automated IP address databases, suddenly become much bigger. From looking for a needle in a haystack for an IPv4 address, digital postmen are now looking for the equivalent of Higgs’ boson.
According to telecoms consultant Martin Geddes, the internet is likely to become less reliable, not more, as packets start to queue, waiting for microprocessors to figure out the next leg of their journey across cyberspace.
“IPv6 is a waste of time and money,” he says in a newletter, Nuclear networking (subscription needed). “It is the wrong answer to the wrong question. It fails to tackle the fundamental problems of Internet Protocol: addressing the wrong thing (interfaces, not applications); tightly coupling the whole system; confusing naming and addressing; perpetuating hacks like DNS and Mobile IP to paper over the gaps; and a host of other sins condemning us to networking purgatory. Indeed, IPv6 will create a whole new slew of performance, security and implementation problems we have yet to fully experience.”
Geddes advocates we re-engineer the internet using RINA – Recursive InterNetwork Architecture. But he also says a commercially viable use of RINA is 10 years away. Now is a good time to start planning the transition, or at least how to splint the fundamentally broken internet with something more robust.
Of course, the for-now answer is to build 128-bit processors specially to cope with IPv6 addressing. Chips with 128-bit floating point registers have been around for quite a while, mainly for high performance computing like counting molecules or decrypting Skype calls in real time, apps that need a high degree of accuracy.
But resolving internet addresses has, until now, not really been an issue. It’s going to be, so how are we going to do it?
Over to you.