Twenty years ago, the fastest Internet backbone links were 1.5Mbps. Today we argue whether that’s a fast enough minimum to connect home users. In 1993, 1.3 million machines were connected to the Internet. By this past summer, that number had risen to 769 million— and this only counts systems that have DNS names. The notion of a computer that is not connected to the Internet is patently absurd these days.
But all of this rapid progress is going to slow in the next few years. The Internet will soon be sailing in very rough seas, as it’s about to run out of addresses, needing to be gutted and reconfigured for continued growth in the second half of the 2010s and beyond. Originally, the idea was that this upgrade would happen quietly in the background, but over the past few years, it has become clear that the change from the current Internet Protocol version 4, which is quickly running out of addresses, to the new version 6 will be quite a messy affair.
While somewhat technological babble, the problems seen with running out of Internet addresses are very similar to ones we will continue to face over the coming years – having to make massive changes at the last moment because we did not do a good job thinking about the transition.
Like climate change, redoing the Internet’s addressing protocol will happen whether we want it or are prepared for it. And like climate change, we have wasted 20 years dithering.
And the transition may end up costing money, as older devices have to be replaced because they no longer work properly.
So, the next few years might be a nice demonstration of just how adaptive and resilient many organizations are. And not isolated organizations but almost all of them. One failure along the route can remove access for many.
We will be forced into a new regime where we have no experience and no real way to test possible solutions. Instead of one organization dropped in the deep end to sink or swim, imagine 50 all tied together, so if one goes down, the others may be dragged down also.
I figure we will muddle through like we have but a lot of productivity may be lost for some time as we make the transition that everyone knew we were going to have to make 20 years ago.
It does not give much hope that we will be any different with other complex problems facing us unless we change the way we do things.