It all has to stack up

BBC Tech news article 7 Nov 12, updated 8 Nov 12The Internet is in its forties, and aptly enough it’s having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Like many innovations, the ones we collectively label social business rely on many that have come before, not least of course the Internet infrastructure that many of us take for granted.

One fundamental quality of the Internet is the architectural premise, indeed promise, that it will enable any two things ‘on it’ to communicate directly. This is known as the end-to-end principle. In slightly geeky terms, this means that the ‘intelligence’ lies at the endpoints – like the device you’re looking at right now, and the web server hosting this website – and not in the middle of the network. This one quality manifests itself in many of the wider characteristics of the Internet we cherish – such as it being open, free and neutral.

You need an Internet Protocol address (IP address) to be ‘on’ the Internet and yet the current version of this protocol only caters to 4.3 billion addresses. This was quite a big number back when the protocol was conceived – there were only 235 Internet hosts at the time – but as visionary as its architects were they didn’t envisage the Web coming along, let alone the likes of Google, Facebook, Skype, smartphones or even the Internet of Things. Now, with 3 billion people online and another 4 billion expected in the not too distant, we don’t even have one number per person. Hence the crisis.

Yet the Internet tech community has the answer in the new version of the protocol, IPv6. This protocol has several advantages, not least of which is the fact that the number of things it can address is a 39-digit number – 340 undecillion to be more precise. The Internet as we know it isn’t broken without it, but future growth is contingent upon it. That’s why I’ve been helping to lobby for its aggressive adoption here in the UK, as you can see from this article on the BBC website, its top tech article all weekend.

Social business is at the top of an architectural stack underpinned by the Internet Protocol. For us to realise this vision, we must also maintain the foundations on which we’re building.

Image source: RIPE NCC, RIPE68 PDF

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