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Internet an "Unreliable Toy" by 2012

In the X-Files, the aliens are scheduled to invade the earth in 2012. In the real world, the last day on the Mayan calendar is December 24, 2012, thus triggering so-called "cataclysmic and apocalyptic events" that will end the world. Now American think-tank Nemertes Research is saying that cyberspace, as we know it today, will come to an end in 2012. But if the Mayan armageddon prophecy holds true, no one will be around to really care about the Internet.

However, the idea behind Nemertes Research's prophecy is that consumer demand will eventually bring down the backbone of the Internet. Think of it as a bridge: when it was new, the bridge had no trouble sustaining a constant load moving from point A to point B; it could even withstand weight above its maximum limit. Now that it's old and rickety, the foundation is beginning to crack, its support beams are buckling and there's not enough resources and man power to fix it before it collapses. This idea applies to the Internet, now carrying more weight that it was designed, and the "fractures" will only get worse over time.

What makes matters worse is that consumer demand grows an average 60-percent a year. Why? Supposedly, sites such as YouTube, Hulu and hordes of other bandwidth-hungry websites are to blame. As an example, one month of YouTube traffic is equivalent to the amount of data traffic generated across the entire Internet in 2000; BBC's iPlayer now accounts for 5-percent of all UK Internet traffic. As it stands, current monthly Internet traffic runs around eight exabytes: an exabyte equals to one quintillion bytes (or units) of data, or more simply put, 50,000 years' worth of DVD-quality data. That's certainly a huge amount of information passing across the globe.

The think-tank also said that eventually network servers will lock up and reboot due to the heavy data movement, causing random "brownouts." By 2012, desktops and laptops will perform like a jogger running through quicksand, rendering the Internet as an "unreliable toy." The random "time out" sessions experienced by many Internet users today will have evolved into day-long traffic jams by then. Internet users may even begin to feel the effects come next year as the first wave of disruptions sweeps through the Internet.

“With more people working or looking for work from home, or using their PCs more for cheap entertainment, demand could double in 2009,” said Ted Ritter, a Nemertes analyst. “At best, we see the economic slowdown delaying the fractures for maybe a year.”

So what can be done to remedy to problem? Currently ISPs are frantically spending billions to replace old hardware and upgrade to overall capacity of their networks, however the recession has slowed down the process, and may ultimately be a waste of time as traffic continues to grow at its current rate, and outpacing the network upgrading process. In one sense, it's completely understandable why IPSs such as Time Warner and Comcast are considering, even implementing, bandwidth caps: the overall structure can no longer support the heavy load of traffic.

However, according to The Times Online, network engineers are planning The Grid, a lightning-fast parallel network. Other engineers are constructing private computer stations called "caches" where popular entertainment data is stored on local machines rather than sent through the "global backbone." It may be that consumers will witness a new cyber highway within the next few years, and the old structure--originally designed by British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee--is bypassed and abandoned like those old dirt roads of yesteryear.

Still, if cyberspace is indeed filling up as Nemertes Research indicates, everyone might want to get their fill before the world comes to an end, the aliens invade, and there's no more Hulu to watch late at night.