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Happy 25th birthday, .com. Time to grow up. Quickly.

The infrastructure of the Internet isn’t capable of handling the amount of traffic sure to come in the next 25 years. To get there, government and business are going to have to work together.

Happy 25th, .com
We're going to need a bigger Internet (and more cake). Photo: Anna-Maria C Sviatko

By Mark McLaughlin , CEO VeriSign

In the movie “Jaws,” after the Great White rams against the hull and nearly sinks the ship, Roy Scheider utters the famous line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” That sums up where the Internet stands as we mark the 25th anniversary of .com. After 25 years, 84 million .com websites and 18 trillion connections a year, it is clear that we have to build not just a bigger, but a better Internet.

A quick glance at the headlines tells us it’s true. Cisco (CSCO) announces a revolutionary router that can download the entire contents of the Library of Congress in one second, the Federal Communications Commission readies a plan to dramatically increase broadband connections and speeds nationally, and projections of 500 million more Internet users and 1.1 billion more Internet-enabled devices by 2013.

Add to this the fact that cyber attacks, most of which are never made public, are increasing at an alarming rate and it tells us that unless we get serious about building out the digital infrastructure we rely on it won’t be prepared to deal with the enormous demand brought by online video, e-commerce and social networking.

As the operator of the .com and .net domain names, VeriSign (VRSN) has to be always focused on what demands will be placed on the infrastructure because we don’t have the luxury of waiting until they occur to address them. We have to think ahead. That is why VeriSign has launched a 10-year initiative, called Project Apollo, to increase the Internet infrastructure responsible for .com and .net by 1,000 percent so the systems can process as many as 4 quadrillion connections a day. 

What will cause that type of demand? Honestly, we do our best to envision the amount of traffic the new innovations will create on our systems to ensure we are ready for the future and can support what comes. Over the last 15 years, we prepared for exponential growth, not knowing that online video and social networking would drive it, just knowing it would occur.  To put the growth in perspective, in all of the year 1995 VeriSign handled 18 billion website and email connections; today VeriSign does that same amount in just 8 hours.

Mark McLaughlin, CEO Verisign (photo: Verisign)

Now, as a nation, we need to make fortifying our infrastructure a national priority. The Obama Administration’s Broadband Plan is a good start because it puts a spotlight on the power of a connected world. Broadband enables a series of “smart” systems to transform our economy. Smart highways make us more productive and reduce our carbon emissions; smart grids make our buildings more energy efficient; and, smart networks make our health care more responsive to citizens and less expensive.

But that is just a start. Because our systems are only as strong as our weakest link, the technology industry needs to work more closely to share information about the frequency and nature of cyber attacks. VeriSign, for example, offers technical expertise and the ability to coordinate and manage traffic during a crisis for those who may need assistance. As an industry, we need to work in closer to mutually fend off threats to our infrastructure.

This is imperative because, as we all know, our economy is increasingly reliant on these systems to function. The 84 million .com websites alone drive $400 billion in annual economic activity, according to a recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and one in five Americans report that losing Internet access for 24 hours would effectively shut down their work.

For anyone under the age of 30, they probably don’t recall a time when the Internet wasn’t in their life. But we cannot take the Internet for granted. Whether it’s broadband, the routers that connect businesses or the underlying domain name system infrastructure, these systems must be continually strengthened, rebuilt and in some cases reinvented. If we don’t, then the predictions by smart technologists of an “Internet collapse” will turn out to be merely premature, not unfounded.

Turning 25 years old, as .com just did, naturally leads to introspection. The lesson of the last 25 years is not only what a dynamic force the Internet can be for societies and economies, but also the importance of ensuring that its success does not leads to a sense of complacency. We need to continue to build a bigger Internet.

Mark McLaughlin is the  President  and CEO of VeriSign, Inc., a Mountain View, CA-based company that provides Internet infrastructure services. Mr. McLaughlin is an attorney and served as an attack helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and earned an Army Commendation Medal and Airborne Wings.