Shareware Beach

Monday, 22 January 2007

The Fragile Internet

Filed under: Cyberspace — Jan @ 16:40

For nearly a month I’ve been experiencing just how fragile the modern, commercial Internet really is. The Internet grew out of a Cold War era US military network called ARPANET. This network was supposed to withstand a nuclear attack by quickly and automatically routing around destroyed network nodes. But today telecom companies compete to provide consumers with high bandwidth and low prices, with little attention to reliability and redundancy.

On December 26th, exactly two years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a major earthquake shook the seas off the coast Taiwan. While it did trigger a small tsunami, there was no significant loss of life.

But the earthquake did damage almost a dozen of undersea cables, which carry about 80% of East Asia’s voice and data communications with the rest of the world. As a result, my internet connection has been essentially reduced to dial-up speed, as my TCP/IP packets compete for the remaining bandwidth with the rest of East Asia. With a whole bunch of Windows Vista-releated product updates to go out the door this month, I haven’t been a happy camper. At least my connection is still working, and fortunately it doesn’t matter all that much if an upload takes 3 minutes or 30. It’s just inconvenient, particularly when I mess up and have to rebuild and re-upload.

It does show how fragile the Internet is. With more and more products and services running over the Internet, it’s really not very smart to rely on a bunch of cables all going through the same spot. It was less than a year ago that the Thai International Internet Gateway got its first European connections (to FT in Paris and TI in Rome). Previously, all traffic between Thailand and Europe went the long way around via the United States (traveling 3/4 of the globe instead of 1/4). There’s still only one such fully operational gateway in Thailand (a second is being built), so switching ISPs won’t help me. The January 2007 map shows just how many connections are down.

But if your area is serviced by ISPs with different backbone connections, it may not be luxury to get two high-speed internet accounts if you run an Internet-based business. When one backbone goes down, you just use the other ISP. And when everything’s fine, you can use both connections with a “bonding” router. Most home network devices don’t support bonding (yet), so you may need to invest in a more expensive model. I’ll certainly be monitoring my local situation and get a second Internet connection as soon as some of the local ISPs follow through on their plans to build their own international gateways.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.