Is the Internet on the verge of collapse?

Bob Metcalfe, VP of technology for Network World parent International Data Group, and a columnist for InfoWorld, has been predicting for months that a catastrophic Internet failure would occur this year. Anyone who's been reading Scott Bradner's column in Network World knows he couldn't disagree more. In a special deal with InfoWorld, we arranged for Metcalfe and Bradner to square off on the topic. You be the judge.

Yes!

By Bob Metcalfe

The Internet might possibly escape a ''gigalapse'' this year. If so, I'll be eating columns at the World-Wide Web Conference in April. Even so, Scott Bradner should be concerned about the Internet's coming catastrophic collapses.

Collapses are widespread and prolonged Internet outages, which, like tropical storms when catastrophic enough, get named and tracked.

To size an outage, multiply the number of users times their hours of denied access. A recent BBN Planet ''kilolapse'' meant thousands of lost user hours. An ampersand mistyped into a router de-'Netted 400,000 Netcom users for 13 hours - a 5.2 ''megalapse.'' Another botched router update de-Webbed 6.2 million America Online users for 19 hours - a catastrophic 118 megalapse. ...

Metcalfe's complete argument

Metcalfe and Bradner tussle

No!

By Scott Bradner

The sky is not about to fall. One of the most common reactions in the press and, to some degree, the technical community, to Bob Metcalfe's predictions of the impending collapse of the Internet, has been to treat him as a Chicken Little - running around in circles loudly lamenting the end of civilization as we know it.

It is a nice, simple concept, easy for the press and public to understand - the Internet will be toast by Tuesday (or was that Thursday). But there are two things wrong with the story. First, it is effectively impossible for the global Internet to fail in a catastrophic way. Second, Bob talks about problems that might affect large numbers of users - not quite the same thing as a systemic collapse.

The Internet consists of hundreds of thousands of interconnected networks, each under its own management. Most of these networks are within end-user organizations and thousands of small Internet service providers. In addition, there are a few dozen large ISPs, each with a service area spanning geographic regions and, in some cases, national borders. ...

Bradner's complete argument

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