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App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

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January 31, 2008 10:49 AM

Internet Proves Its Vulnerability/Resiliency

On Wednesday, two underseas cables were cut off of Egypt's northern coast causing 70% of the country's Internet network to go down.

This story is interesting for so many reasons.

First off, I sometimes think people forget that pretty much all international Internet traffic runs over incredibly long, hair thin strands of glass stretched across the ocean floor. Sure they're bundled together and wrapped in protective coating, but between the destructive power of man and the awesome power of Mother Earth I sometimes wonder why we don't hear about stories like this every week.

Secondly, the Internet is inherently interconnected, so that when these two cables were cut, not only did Egypt lose 70% of its network but India lost over half its bandwidth. Last I looked, there's a little thing called the Middle East separating the two, so it's kinda startling how big an impact an issue with the Internet in one country can affect another.

There's a lot of talk about the vulnerability of the Internet due to too much demand for bandwidth and not enough investment in capacity, but we mustn't forget its physical vulnerability in terms of the pipes that carry its traffic.

At the same time, it never ceases to amaze me how resilient the Internet is.

By Wednesday night, for example, India had service--albeit degraded--up and running again. Within a couple weeks they expect to be back to full speed.

How did this happen? By rerouting the traffic that used to flow over the now cut pipes through other networks.

This truly is one of the most beautiful parts of the Internet: the way that networks interconnect and allow it to survive losing vital arteries by diverting more traffic through other pipes.

At the same time, I think this resiliency speaks even more strongly in favor of the need for more capacity in the network. The only way this resiliency works is if you have the capacity elsewhere on the Internet to route traffic through during an emergency like this. If this had happened but no one else had any additional capacity, then we wouldn't be able to reroute anything.

On the flip side, the more capacity and interconnectedness we have the more resilient the Internet becomes.

It's important we recognize how fragile the Internet can be and how important it is we work towards bolstering its capacity so that when--not if--something like this happens in America, we'll have the resiliency to survive without risking harming industries like the financial marketplace, which has become so heavily reliant on the ability to reliably communicate instantaneously.


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