bridges vol. 14, July 2007 / Feature Article
by Ellen W. Zegura
The Internet has had an incredible impact on all aspects of our lives. Only a decade or so has passed since the Internet moved out of the realm of research and was made available for public use, yet almost all of us routinely use it to work, to play, and to learn. There are few aspects of our lives that are not touched in some way by the Internet, and few technological developments have had such broad impact in such a short time.
If we dig a little deeper, however, we encounter some troubling indications that, below the surface, the Internet may be degrading, putting both current and future uses at unacceptable risk.
For example, most of our critical infrastructures, such as the phone system and the air traffic control system, are available roughly 99.999% of the time - so-called, five nines of availability. In contrast, estimates of the Internet's availability are typically on the order of 99.9% or less; thus the Internet's downtime is two orders of magnitude higher than that of our other critical infrastructures. This level of availability has not slowed the Internet's amazing rise to prominence, but it has prevented various critical functions such as 911 emergency calls or critical corporate communication from using the Internet as the primary communication infrastructure. Stated more personally, would you have tele-surgery over today's Internet?
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