Internet Outage in Middle East, Asia Prompts Redundancy Questions

As millions of users, outsourced call centers and other businesses are impacted by the cutting of several undersea Internet cables, experts look for solutions.

Five undersea Internet cables have been damaged, causing Internet outages for approximately 83 million users in Asia and the Middle East as well as disrupting voice calls, corporate data and video trafffic, according to Khaleej Times online.

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"The Internet is designed to route around damage such as this, but if enough cables are disabled the options shrink," Bruce Schneier, CTO, BT Counterpane. "Any critical systems that rely on Internet connectivity are gong to be affected."

Speculations about the cause of the damage have included ships dropping anchor and dragging cables until they snap, but officially, no cause has been named by the companies involved. The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding undersea cables, told Reuters that investigations were underway and it wouldn't speculate on the cause of the damage.

"This has been an eye-opener for us, and everyone in the telecom industry worldwide," Colonel R.S. Parihar, the secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, told the International Herald Tribune. "...what if it is [caused by] sabotage tomorrow?" And, he pointed out, no governments or armies protect these cables.

Experts say sabotage is unlikely, but five separate incidents within 10 days do raise questions.

Outages Where?

The map below shows the locations and details of the five Internet outages.

Sabotage or Redundancy?

"'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action,'" said an anonymous source at a large telecom provider quoting James Bond bad guy Goldfinger. The source added, "That said, cables are fragile and they go out all the time. That is why we have redundancy—the fact that we had some that got noticed may simply be calling attention to the background outages, ones that would have been beneath our notice had we not lost two serving the same traffic."

But one has to wonder, where is the redundancy? And how exactly are these things happening?

As Schneier points out in his blog, "A fifth [cable] cut? What the hell is going on out there?"

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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