A network meltdown is the situation in which a network functions poorly or ceases to function as a result of excessive traffic.
The excess traffic that causes network meltdowns is typically a consequence of broadcast storms. A broadcast storm is the situation in which messages broadcast into a network cause multiple hosts (i.e., computers connected to the network) to respond simultaneously by broadcasting their own messages, which, in turn, prompts further messages to be broadcast, etc. A broadcast is the transmission of a single message to all hosts on the network simultaneously.
However, network meltdowns are not always the result of erroneous or malicious actions. They can also occur if a network receives more traffic than it has been designed to accommodate or if the network is poorly configured.
The term is derived from the meltdown that can occur in a nuclear reactor if there is a failure of the controls. However, the analogy is not good because a network meltdown usually lasts for only a brief interval, whereas a nuclear meltdown can be catastrophic and result in damage that lasts for centuries.
Created November 15, 2005.