Cable and wire-less

A conversation from the back of a cab in West London, yesterday evening;"It's not the end of the world", I said"Shame." said the radio news producer.

A conversation from the back of a cab in West London, yesterday evening;

"It's not the end of the world", I said

"Shame." said the radio news producer. "It's always good when the world ends during my show".

I had been on the phone earlier to a Very Large Chip Company, talking to the CTO about a big raft of announcements that'll be out of non-disclosure shortly - tasty stuff across the board that'll keep me busy for a while - when my mobile rang. Two minutes later, it rang again. And again. Uh-oh.

When I got off the blower, I went through the voice mail - three different news types, all asking the same questions: "What's happening with Egypt and India falling off the Internet? Will this affect UK businesses? Could it happen here?".

Good questions. And as you'll know by now, Egypt and India didn't 'fall off the Internet' -- although connectivity went way down with the rest of the world, the Internet within the affected areas was fine -- but one or two undersea fibre optic cables were cut. Most reports say two, the FLAG cable and SeaMeWe4, but the most recent reports say that SeaMeWe4 is apparently unaffected. It's taking a bit of time to piece together exactly what happened, and it'll take longer to work out the consequences.

The conversation I had with the news producer was typical. He was wondering whether all the companies who'd outsourced IT and services to India would lose tons of money, and I was saying that it's unlikely.

While I didn't have the exact figures of how much bandwidth had been lost, how many UK companies had got data centres in India, nor how the Internet was rerouting, I was having the conversation on my mobile in the back of a cab while simultaneously reading about the event on the Calcutta Telegraph's website on a 3G laptop. That, I thought, was a clue.

And, today, it looks as if it wasn't a huge disaster - at least not for the well-connected Westerner. We await news from Egypt and points east.

It is a sober reminder, though, that we take too much for granted; that the Internet is inherently robust, that there's always backup somewhere, that there are no implications beyond the immediate financials of relying on operations across the globe.

These things we need to know: what is the total physical Internet infrastructure? Is there really a choke point on the seabed off Alexandria, and do companies co-ordinate in laying their cables? Is anyone simulating the effects of multiple simultaneous failures? And what would we do if we woke up one morning and Google had gone?

Looks like a to-do list to me.

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