infoTECH Feature

November 06, 2012

Serious Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy for Telecom Sector

There are some important lessons being learned about the Internet and other telecom services when a massive storm strikes – such as last week with Hurricane Sandy.

For example, it’s not a good idea in New York City or elsewhere to have many Internet Service Providers (ISP) concentrated in one local area.

“It was a gamble that didn't pay off for many data center operators and their online customers, thanks to flooding that knocked out power – sometimes along with the backup generators and fuel supply pumps,” reported Brian Proffitt in a recent column on ReadWrite.

Internet providers like Equinix (News - Alert) and Internap were using traditional power from the electric company or workable generators – to provide service by Saturday, Read Write said.

But Datagram, another ISP, did not get a new backup generator until 2 p.m. Friday, the report adds. Datagram’s offices were flooded from Hurricane Sandy and water reached its servers in the company’s New York City offices, TechZone360 said.

When the company went down, customers such as Gawker, the Huffington Post (News - Alert) and BuzzFeed went down quickly afterward.

"The building's entire basement, which houses the building's fuel tank pumps and sump pumps, was completely filled with water and a few feet into the lobby," Datagram said in a statement. "Due to electrical systems being underwater, the building was forced to shut down to avoid fire and permanent damage."

In the end, 10 percent of the networks in the New York region went offline, according to Renesys.

"Silencing 10% of the networks in the New York area is like taking out an entire country the size of Austria in terms of impact on the global routing table," Renesys (News - Alert) said in a blog post. "The 90% that survive are in data centers, running on generator power supplied by engineers who do not sleep much."

The storm illustrates, too, how there is “no single point of contact – or responsibility – for keeping the Web working. We all use a mix of cell phones, wired Internet and enterprise service providers to access our digital content,” Jonathan Blum said in his column on TheStreet.

“What passes for Internet infrastructure – you know, the mishmash of the real wired, wireless, power and computer technologies virtual things run on – is nothing more than a techno bucket of bolts,” Blum added. “And considering the cost, complexity and uncertainty in doing business on the Web, it is no wonder information giants such as Google (News - Alert) (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) see their margins shrink.”

The result he experienced was that Verizon cell service worked for calls, but not data access. AT&T (News - Alert) provided data, but not efficient e-mail. Sprint had data service, but inefficient Web and phone. Text messaging overall did the best in and after the storm, Blum said.

Also, as many as 25 percent of cell phone towers were offline from electricity outages, storm-related damage or the inability to have enough generator gasoline or adequate battery back-up power, TMCnet said.

Also, more than 2,000 separate sites on the Internet using unique IP addresses were cut off after Hurricane Sandy reached New Jersey, according to Read Write.

It’s true that cloud facilities can be impacted from a storm like other data centers. But Proffitt likes the option to go with the cloud.

The storm showed the need for cloud-based deployment for websites and services, Proffitt said.

“If this storm didn't wake companies up to the importance of using off-site public clouds as at least a backup for their online presence, then one has to wonder … what it would take to jog the IT staff into taking action,” Proffitt said. “Remember that your website is on a network -- it does not have to be tied down to one vulnerable server in one vulnerable building… When Web teams plan for success in the cloud, elastic services offer a better 21st Century method to avoid or respond to disasters.”

On a regulatory front, according to TechZone360, the storm also may lead to a more sympathetic attitude to new regulations on the telecom sector or the industry at least agreeing to more voluntary measures to minimize risk to networks during storms.

Edited by Braden Becker

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