All your base are belong to Microsoft


Well, maybe for a week or three anyway. That is the theory being bandied around wherever more than three geeks assembly for longer than 10 minutes, or so it seems. Perhaps it is just the company I keep. However, is there any merit in the idea that Vista, and specifically its support for IPv6, will cause the Internet to stutter and possibly even fall over?

Well there is certainly a good basis for the story that is circulating, because it came about after one of the people on the original team that invented the Domain Name Server system, Paul Mockapetris, mentioned that the extra load that Vista will place upon DNS could be enough to cause brownouts. “It is going to be mud season on the Internet, where things will just be kind of slow and gooey" were his exact words in fact.

However, just why should Vista even be in the frame for such an effect?
It all boils down to Vista supporting the IPv6 network layer protocol as well as the existing IPv4, which is actually a very good thing seeing as this positively elderly protocol (originally proposed in 1981) is on its last legs. The problem being that back then, when the Internet remained the plaything of military and academic researchers, the IP address notation that provided 32 bits for describing all addresses seemed plenty. Seriously, who would have thought that the theoretical maximum of 4,294,967,296 could ever be consumed? Surely not the people handing out huge swathes of the things in enormous blocks to anyone who asked.

Of course, the online landscape is rather different today and when your microwave oven comes with its own IP address you know we are heading for trouble: the kind of trouble that even non-routable IPs reserved for devices within a private network can help avoid. Therefore, IPv6 was born, moving the IP address space from being a 32-bit one to 128 bits. To put that in some kind of perspective, that is 3,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IP addresses, or something like 800 for each and every gram of matter existing on the planet.

So what does this have to do with Microsoft grinding the Internet to a halt then? Well, the theory goes that because Vista supports both IPv4 and IPv6, as it has to right now, and runs both simultaneously then every time you want to visit any domain it has to first send an IPv6 request to the DNS server and then an IPv4 fallback request if and when it can’t find anything. With many DNS servers already heavily laden, this piggyback effect will simply cause some to fall over under the increased load.

Is it a feasible theory then, or just a wonderful bit of conspiracy theorizing?

I am inclined to opt for the latter; after all I really can’t see everyone switching to Vista at the suggested price points, certainly not immediately after release. The clever money says people wait for bugs to be squashed and prices to fall, so I suspect that the Internet is safe from the big boot of Bill Gates for a few years yet...

About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

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