Data bits found on the sea bed off Egypt

An undersea cable was severed and another seriously damaged off the Egyptian coast yesterday, probably by ships dragging their anchors in bad weather. The result was that internet services in Egypt were cut off and web traffic in India disrupted with a loss of 60% of bandwidth. Other Gulf States were also disrupted.

Leaving aside the convenience of laying cables together at the expense of exposing them to a single geographical hazard such as the one above, it prompted me to consider our dependency on the telecoms infrastructure which we so easily take for granted.

Broadband consumers (individuals or companies) have no control over how they are supplied and even if they did, there are so many other telecom companies involved in the infrastructure chain when considering the internet that no one can offer assurances over reliability of service. The internet was specifically designed to operate in a de-centralised way, able to route traffic through a myriad of routes between the same two points. Yet in practice, telecommunications physical infrastructure can seemingly have single points of failure.

In answer to the question, "do you have in-built fail-over or backup" a response of "yes, we have two separate cables" ignores the fact that they are co-located, rather like a back-up server sitting next to the production server.

A similar situation occurred on 9/11 when much of downtown New York's telecommunication network failed due to the close proximity of the switches to the World Trade Centre and which were destroyed in the terrorist attack.

At this point, our huge dependency on internet based (and telephony) services is fully exposed. In yesterday's example, India was affected and yet it is a key off-shoring location that can be hit with damage to a couple of cables. Everyone takes for granted that the international telecommunication system is resilient and granted there is little we can do about it if it's not. However, leaving aside the reality that it is impossible for a company to properly test, I wonder how many companies backup/DR plans can genuinely deal with such incidences and sustain the inter-dependency of their international operations?

posted by John Wilson @ 8:04 AM Permanent Link newsvine reddit


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