Great Internet Meltdown of Feb 2008

On January 31st, many parts of the middle east and asia lost internet connectivity as two undersea cables off the coast of Egypt were cut. They say that trouble comes in threes and so it did when a third cable was cut soon. But as if that was not enough a couple of more cables were cut in the following week. While access speeds in many countries slowed to a crawl, some were blanked out completely. MITs Technology Review magazine has an excellent article analyzing this internet collapse. It was speculated that the first two cables were cut by a ship’s anchor dragging along the sea floor. But Egypt has denied that any ships were present in that area at the time. So, it is still not clear what caused it. When something like this happens the situation is ripe for conspiracy theories.

However, there was a silver lining to this dark cloud. Most ISPs in India managed to avert a major disaster. Much of the high priority traffic was rerouted over lines in the Pacific. All of the big outsourcing companies also proved their mettle. They had contracts with multiple providers and were able to switch to their backup providers. By planning for redundancy they proved that they can handle such disasters with minimal disruptions. While these big players had the financial muscle to pay for redundancy, it is not clear how the mid-sized and small outsourcing firms fared. There is not much coverage in the media about them.

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