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An Analogy

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

The analogy is the best literary device I know to aid in making the complex more understandable. Recently I came across absolutely one of the best I had ever read, and I want to give proper attribution up front to Roland Dobbins, a senior analyst at Arbor Networks.

He said, “This may come as a surprise to nonspecialists who view the internet as a high tech affair comparable to the bridge of the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame …. In actuality, the internet is more akin to an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, with a lot of running about, climbing, shouting, and tugging on ropes required to maintain the desired course and speed.”

That so elegantly and succinctly sums up the way the internet really works. The only reason the internet does work is thanks to the constant behind-the-scenes efforts of many dedicated technicians who work for huge multinational Tier 1 internet providers and smaller regional Tier 3 providers, such as Megacable or Telmex. The situation I described last week is but one of many that places an unfair burden on these local internet providers.

As the internet has run out of IPv4 addresses, some owners who have extra IP addresses they are not using have started to sell them off. The British Department of Work and Pensions is reported to have had millions of IP addresses they did not need, and so some were sold off to a company in Norway. Just as a US cell phone sometimes fails to work in Mexico, where it is out of its home area, there are now blocks of IP addresses that used to be located in the UK that are now located in Norway. Every router table in every internet server in the world now has to have an entry in its database showing that those IP addresses that used to be in the UK are now located in Norway.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) around the world, such as Megacable and Telmex, have good reason to be upset about this. They were not consulted when the Department of Work and Pensions sold off those IP addresses, even though that sale required that our local ISPs here in Mexico update their servers’ routing tables and in some cases update their equipment.

This ad hoc trading in IP addresses is fragmenting patterns of routing as addresses that belonged in one country are being moved to another. Every time any IP address is sold and moved outside the region where it was supposed to reside, this creates a greater burden for every local internet server on earth. This is causing a domino effect of problems for ISPs that are being forced to accelerate their timetables for upgrading hardware while scrambling to put temporary fixes in place until they do. Skilled network engineers who know about the limitations of aging network hardware are stretched thin when a problem such as the relocated IP address issue strikes thousands of servers at once.


Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or e-mail FAQ8 (at)


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