Surviving Disaster: Japan's Internet

In the last few months, we've seen examples of how trivial it is for the Internet to be broken in Egypt and Libya. In Japan, though, despite earthquakes, tsunami, and potential nuclear reactor meltdowns, the Internet has kept streaming.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the Internet has, by and large, kept working in Japan despite earthquakes, tsunami, and potential nuclear reactor meltdowns, is very small. But perhaps it isn't really that minor when you consider that for hundreds of millions of people wanting to know if friends and family are well, a simple e-mail, instant-message, or even a Facebook update can spell the difference between hours or days of worry and the relief of at least knowing their loved ones' fate.

Unlike Egypt or Libya, where dictatorships found it all too easy to turn off the Internet, Japan's Internet has largely stayed up in the face of disaster.

This is a credit to Japan's robust Internet that has managed to keep running despite a 8.9 Richter scale earthquake and numerous powerful aftershocks, tidal waves, and all the havoc that such natural disaster play on a modern society's infrastructure.

As Jim Cowie, Chief Technology Officer of Renesys, an Internet business analysis company wrote in his blog, "It's clear that Internet connectivity has survived this event better than anyone would have expected. The engineers who built Japan's Internet created a dense web of domestic and international connectivity that is among the richest and most diverse on earth, as befits a critical gateway for global connectivity in and out of East Asia. At this point, it looks like their work may have allowed the Internet to do what it does best: route around catastrophic damage and keep the packets flowing, despite terrible chaos and uncertainty."

According to a VentureBeat report, Dave Karow, senior product manager for Keynote, an Internet performance testing company, said, "At a macro level, the Internet did what it's supposed to do. It didn't even blink."

To be more precise, according to the Internet logs of the Internet Multifeed company, a leading Japanese Internet company, Internet traffic at its Network Access Points (NAP) was down only 10% from its normal rates.

Not all of the Japanese Internet has kept going of course. Pacific Crossing, a major Internet cable company that connects Japan with the U.S., reports that two of its trans-Pacific cables "are currently out of service as a result of the Japanese earthquake. And, that, "The Japanese cable landing station in Ajigaura has been evacuated due to the tsunami on the east coast of Japan and currently information on restoration activities and timing is unavailable."

Even so, as Cowie reported, "Of roughly 6,000 Japanese network prefixes in the global routing table, only about 100 were temporarily withdrawn from service - and that number has actually decreased in the hours since the event. Other carriers around the region have reported congestion and drops in traffic due to follow-on effects of the quake, but most websites are up and operational, and the Internet is available to support critical communications."

In times such as this, we can only be grateful for what does work right, even as we feel sorrow over so much that has gone wrong.

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