Gartner Group predicts meltdowns, rebuilding of Internet

The Internet is being stretched beyond its capabilities by an increasing number of users and advanced applications, according to a Gartner Group analyst who predicts a series of meltdowns and rebuilding of the global infrastructure over the next couple of years.

"The tremendous growth of the Internet is exposing cracks and flaws" in the network, resulting in so-called "brown outs" now during which users are unable to access sites because lines are tied up or servers are down, Doug Cayne said at a one-day Gartner Group conference on the Internet last week.

"The Internet was designed for research and academic use, for which TCP/IP and router technology were appropriate," Cayne says. "This technology, however, will not handle communications where guaranteed levels of service must be delivered at high traffic levels from the network. The multiple backbone architecture also presents a problem as end-to-end co-ordination of resources is necessary for traffic types such as video."

Because of the increase in traffic and the limitations of servers and other infrastructure equipment, Cayne predicts there will be a "communications infrastructure blow up and collapse. ... But this will not significantly inhibit growth or ongoing use" because the Internet backbone will be rebuilt on a continuing basis.

In 1996, "there will be a backbone meltdown that will probably happen again in 1997 and 1998," Cayne says. "It will happen if you design applications that assume that this is a totally robust system ..." One of the biggest problems is that bandwidth is not growing as fast as the amount of data being transmitted, he says.

Meanwhile, periods of "retrenchment" will lead to "step-function" increases in capabilities and use, he predicts. Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connections will increase local access speed and the backbone will grow to include higher capacity routers and evolve to switching technologies such as frame relay and ATM in an attempt to keep pace with the growth, according to Cayne.

"The investment required in all levels of the physical network infrastructure will force out smaller service providers who cannot maintain the level of investment necessary," he says.

Currently, Cayne estimates there are about 30 million Internet users. That is expected to jump to 100 million users by the end of 1998, he says.

Gartner Group, based in Stamford, Connecticut, is at +1 (203) 316- 6793.

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