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The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION
| POSTCARD FROM CYBERSPACE / DANIEL AKST

Proof of Skyrocketing Net Growth

February 28, 1996|DANIEL AKST

The subject of Internet usage is surrounded by so much hype that sometimes it seems impossible to figure out what is really going on.

That's why I think the latest data about "Internet hosts" from Mark Lottor and Tony Rutkowski are so important. Lottor, of Network Wizards in Menlo Park, Calif., has been counting Internet hosts for several years now and Rutkowski, former president of the Internet Society, interprets and distributes the data.

What's an Internet host? Well, you probably know that the Internet is a collection of computer networks all over the world, each one of which has a number of computers connected to it. These individual computers, which might be said to make up the Internet, are known as hosts, and each has a unique numerical address.

While it's difficult to figure out how many people use the Internet, it's not quite as hard to determine with reasonable accuracy how many Internet hosts there are, since a machine attached to the Internet has to be registered in the databases known as "domain name servers" so that other computers can find it. By monitoring changes in Internet hosts, and paying close attention to where the most changes are occurring, we can get a more concrete idea of how the Net is growing.

Lottor has written a series of computer commands, or scripts, to automate the process of searching the DNS databases and counting the hosts. His latest count, in January, shows explosive growth, sure, but it also gives some insight into the nature of that growth, telling us clearly that private and international use of the Internet are the wave of the future.

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The latest figures show that in January the Internet consisted of 9.5 million hosts, up from 4.9 million a year ago and just 1.2 million in January 1993. The implication is that the number of hosts roughly doubles every year. It's also worth noting that, in the past six months alone, the number of Internet domains doubled, to 240,000. The figure is up 238% from a year earlier.

In representing Internet growth, the host numbers are quite conservative, since a great many hosts are hidden behind Internet 'firewalls." Users at these sites can reach the rest of the Internet, but others from the Internet can't reach in. Firewalls are usually erected for security. Rutkowski estimates that there are perhaps four times as many "hidden" networks as there are networks openly connected to the Internet.

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The data also understate growth by failing to take account of the phenomenal expansion of services such as America Online, which counts as a single host despite having several million users. Of the Internet, Lottor says: "No one has any clue how many users there are, but most people would agree that there is at least one user per host."

Still, Lottor's data is hard, and it is consistent. It also suggests what kind of growth is occurring. Testifying to the astounding growth of the World Wide Web, for instance, Lottor found that hosts with a www in the name are the fastest-growing segment, increasing at an annual rate of 2,400%. "About 76,000 systems are now named www, up from only 17,000 six months ago," Lottor reports.

The data on Internet hosts shows clearly that private use is the fastest-growing aspect of Internet life. The "com" domain, which designates a commercial area, is already the largest, encompassing more than a quarter of all hosts on the Internet. In the second half of last year alone it grew by nearly 700,000 hosts, an increase of 39%, to more than 2.4 million. The "edu" domain, used by academic institutions, grew by 27%, to 1.8 million. Rutkowski says com and edu are about 80% American. Overall, he adds, about 60% of the 9.5 million hosts counted by Lottor are considered to be American.

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Yet the new data also show that the internationalization of the Internet is increasing apace. According to Rutkowski, the domains of 28 countries or territories appeared on the host count for the first time, evidently having connected only since July.

The list of new international domains contains an extraordinarily far-flung array of nations, including Albania, Bahrain, Belize, Brunei, the Cook Islands, Cuba, Ethiopia, the Solomon Islands, Uganda and the Vatican.

In further testament to the growing internationalization of the Internet, many small and not very rich countries that previously had only a handful of machines connected to the Internet now have a good many more. The United Arab Emirates, for instance, had 11 Internet hosts in July. In January it had 365. Lebanon went from one to 88 in the same period. The Philippines went from 365 to 1,771. And tiny Singapore, in a mere six months, went from 8,208 hosts to 22,769. Growth was also rapid in advanced nations such as England, Japan and Finland, although in absolute numbers the United States, England, Canada, Japan, Germany and Australia grew most.

Overall, the data show, 51 country and global top-level domains are growing faster than 100% a year.

BTW: Evidently the address I gave last week for Forrest Stroud's trove of winsock applications is no longer working, so try this: http://www.enterprise.net/cwsapps/

Daniel Akst welcomes messages at Dan.Akst@latimes.com. His World Wide Web page is at http://www.com/~akst/

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Net Numbers

To see the data on Internet growth for yourself, visit http://www.nw.com/, maintained by Mark Lottor's firm, Network Wizards. There are also some charts based on the numbers at http://www.genmagic.com/internet/, a site maintained by General Magic Inc., where Tony Rutkowski is vice president for Internet business development.

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