The world's leading Internet engineers see many surprising trends occurring under the covers of this complex network environment. Among their findings are the evolution of silicon cockroaches — tiny, mobile, unattended wireless devices — and "dirty" Internet address space that can't be used by network operators. Here are a few eye-openers about what’s really going on in the Internet infrastructure that were discussed at a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) last week.

Watch out for silicon cockroaches.

Network operators should prepare for an infestation of silicon cockroaches, a term used to describe Internet-connected devices such as mobile sensors, bio-medical systems and RFID-powered asset trackers that operate without human administration. Aaron Falk, chair of the Internet Research Task Force, listed silicon cockroaches as a key factor in the Internet becoming a network of things, rather than a network of computers, in the future. Falk said 15 billion devices could be hooked up to the Internet by 2015, a figure that will be "orders of magnitude bigger" than the number of Internet-connected people. Silicon cockroaches pose several threats to network operators, including naming, security and management headaches that require additional research, Falk said.

Internet's third-largest carrier is Google.

If you thought Internet traffic was carried by, well, carriers, think again. In 2009, Google became the third largest global transit carrier on the Internet, according to Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks. Labovitz said Google carries between 6% and 10% of the Internet's traffic, thanks to its acquisition of YouTube and its massive build-out of data centres. Arbor Networks came up with this figure based on a two-year study that involves monitoring more than 110 ISPs and content providers representing 25% of the Internet's inter-domain traffic. Labovitz said Google is helping change the topology of the Internet by creating a flatter, more densely interconnected Internet.

Farewell to peer-to-peer.

The era of BitTorrent, Kazaa, iMesh and other peer-to-peer (P2P) networking services appears to be ending, according to the Arbor Networks study of Internet traffic trends. The study measured P2P traffic as a percentage of overall Internet traffic and found that it declined more than 70% between 2007 and 2009. Now representing less than 1% of Internet traffic, P2P is the fastest-declining application on the Internet. The most popular applications are Web, video and VPN services. As video downloads rise, network operators are seeing more traffic entering their networks via Port 80, Labovitz said.

Warnings of an exaflood were exaggerated.

Internet traffic is growing at the rate of 45% a year, according to the Arbor Networks study. Labovitz calls this growth rate "significant," but says it doesn't approach an exaflood level. Exaflood is a term coined in 2006 to refer to projected growth rates of Internet traffic that would be 50 or 100 times bigger than it is today. The Arbor Networks study estimates the Internet's total inter-domain traffic volume per month was a large-but-manageable 9 exabytes in 2009.