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The internet is so big that it's breaking routers

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The internet may soon be too large for many border routers to handle, according to a new report from analysts at Renesys. Older hardware could reach a breaking point in the next few weeks, causing failures across smaller providers. It's going to be more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe, but if your small provider goes down in the coming weeks, there's a good chance there'll be an overloaded border router behind it.

"We'll see sporadic, distributed instability."

The core of the problem is the routing table, a map of all the paths through the web that routers use to direct traffic. As the internet grows, so does the routing table, including more and more paths from point to point. The table is now reaching a critical mass of 512K routes, which is enough to overflow the allocated memory for many older routers. Because different regions keep slightly different routing tables, the effect is likely to be spread out over the next few weeks, but when it comes, it may take down a lot of the older hardware powering the web. "We'll see sporadic, distributed instability," says Renesys's Jim Cowie, who wrote the report, "and we may see quite a lot of it."

The hope is that, like the much-hyped Y2K bug, anyone dealing with important infrastructure will be smart enough to upgrade early. Still, Renesys is already monitoring to see how much damage the bug does. As Cowie puts it, "we'll be looking to see if the temperature of the internet is rising."