Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cisco Reminds Us Once Again How Big the Internet Is, and How Big It’s Getting

One of the well-worn buzz phrases in tech that re-surfaces from time to time is “The Internet of Things.” When I first encountered it, it was in 2002, and it was used in the title of this story in Forbes about the use of RFID chips by retailers like Wal-Mart to track inventory. Nine years later it draws a big yawn.

Now it seems the networking giant Cisco Systems has appropriated it to mean something else entirely, something a lot more meaningful in the larger context of the Internet. The way Cisco sees it, the number of devices connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people populating the entire planet. And that’s not just smartphones and tablets. It’s sensors tracking the health of cattle, and medical devices monitoring the health of cardiac patients and so on. And eventually, rather than always interacting with humans, they’ll be interacting with each other automatically, updating our daily schedules. Other examples include the machine-to-machine-type devices that outfits like Iridium, the satellite data firm, is finding so lucrative.

Of course, Cisco would like you to associate its brand with these kinds of big thoughts rather than its more workaday corporate troubles. It did something in the same vein last month when it unveiled its annual Visual Networking Index forecast which measures and predicts the size of the entire Internet. But before Cisco does its part to build this incredible network it’s talking about, it’s going to have to get its own corporate ship in order — and as everyone now knows, that’s going to mean layoffs. But who cares about that when there’s this utopian future just ahead?

Getting to that utopia will also require completing the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. You did know that the pool of old-style Internet address is more or less exhausted, right? Right. So when the Gods of the Internet get their act together and move completely to IPv6, there will be more Internet addresses available than there are atoms on the planet Earth. Don’t ask how many that is, but its a really big number. Okay, go ahead and ask: 340 sextillion. That’s a 340 followed by 36 zeros.

Anyhow, the fine folks at Cisco have whipped all this big thinking into an easy-to-understand graphic which they’ve kindly shared with me. Have a look below. The other image, (since we’re talking about big things) is a map of the known universe, courtesy of The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Sometimes it just pays to keep things in perspective.


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