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Jan 06

Cable trouble solutions

Mapping Strategy points to maps of undersea cable routes featured at Teleography. Over at Satcom there’s an overview of the problems caused by the Taiwan earthquake (and satellite solutions resorted to by some countries). (Mapping Strategies in another entry says Asia hasn’t learned and applied the lessions the US did in the wake of 9-11.)

James Seng says a disruption on this scale hasn’t taken place since 1994, and explains how submarine cables are fixed and looks at Singapore’s cable situation and future solutions (and points to angry letters in the Singapore press, surely something new):

The logical solution is to develop more submarine fibers to the west, to Europe/India and then from there across Altantic ocean so we have a loop. Believe me, IDA has competent people who already knows this (and long time ago I would say). But multi-billions dollars project is going to take time. Not to mention the challenges to lay across Straits of Malacca (another story, another day). Alt, go down to Australia and then across the Pacific to US altho going to Australia cuts through the coral rift, technical and environment-politically challenging.

What about using satellite as some angry letters in the papers suggest?

One fiber optic core at current economical technology carries 10Gbps of traffic. Using satellite, assuming the state of the art 10bit/hz, we would need to reserve 1000Mhz of channel bandwidth to match ONE core of fiber optic. Submarine fibers generally has 4-8 pairs of fiber core so do your own math. The latency for satellite is also 400-500ms per hop. To get to US, we need approximately 2 hop.

One commenter in Seng’s blog points to how the Philippines might have an opportunity to work with Malaysia and other countries to come up with a new cable network:

A reasonable alternative route to the usual North Asia path would be SG or Malaysia or eastern Thailand, and then to either Phillipines or Viet Nam, then to Guam and then to Hawaii, then over to North America. The fibre routes that transit Guam from east, west, and south were not harmed by this incident. Although Guam looks small, there is lots of potential for traffic add/drop there because it is the western-most US territory in the mid-Pacific.[1] Manila and Viet Nam also have a fair bit of add/drop potential, particularly southern parts of Viet Nam where the newest “Tiger” economy is booming.

A Malaysian blogger, Kai-Loon, even helpfully posted a proxy server people can use to bypass the cut cables in Taiwan. And yet a blog entry from last week at eeetsie’s world points out how irrelevant the Philippines seems in the disruption caused by the earthquake. How I wish the public would receive information along the lines of what Telekom Malaysia has released. Not to mention this appeal:

TM Malaysia Business chief executive officer (CEO), Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa said: “This episode has clearly pointed out how dependent the Asian countries are on these links and it has certainly persuaded many providers, TM included, to rethink our respective business continuity strategies for the future in view of the Pacific basin’s susceptibility to natural disasters.”

“This recent disruption of our Internet services has also highlighted to us the sheer number of local sites that are not hosted locally in the country. Malaysia has more than sufficient capacity for web hosting services and it would be timely for us to collectively have a change of mindset with regards to our local capabilities in hosting Malaysian content,” he added.

“I would like to encourage all organizations and individuals to host their websites locally not only to leverage on the country’s strong infrastructure for hosting services but also to be more self-reliant to ensure that disasters like this do not have such impact on them.

“This directly fits in with the purpose of having the recently launched Malaysian Internet Exchange (MyIX) for improving domestic traffic and keeping it within the country.”

Now “keeping traffic within the country” may sound dangerously close to the kind of thinking that had observers worried for a time concerning China. I recall at some conferences last year, it seemed there was a time when China either threatened, or contemplated, setting up a kind of internet separate from the world wide web, but it proved to economically risky (though politically quite tempting). Here at home, the concern is that access to US hosting and domain registration, etc. serves as a healthy foil to Philippine companies.

But it would be a pity if the slowdown in the ‘net didn’t result in anything more than people patiently bearing the inconvenience.

the layman probably knows everything to know about Singapore and Malaysia’s situation but for a Filipino, there seems precious little information coming from any source. Certainly media hasn’t been focusing on this issue, which is odd considering how not just the call center, but medical transcription, and other services, are surely affected.

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27 comments

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  1. Ben

    “Certainly media hasn’t been focusing on this issue, which is odd considering how not just the call center, but medical transcription, and other services, are surely affected.”

    The effect is serious. I spoke to an operations head of a BPO unit and he is in conference calls the whole day these days, talking with US-based counterparts. There’s a lot of tension all around because clients are very upset and there’s the usual concern for legal liability. For sure, the call centers who charge on a per call basis are being hit big with losses in the millions per day.

    It’s ironic that the Internet, which was originally designed by the military to be indestructible precisely to avoid any communication downtime, has become quite vulnerable because the uses for it have stretched far beyond the original intent of its design. I think some redesign should come out of this recent crisis.

  2. jhay

    More information about this event would really help internet shop owners across the country explain to their customers why their connections are slow. That way, the shop owners and providers (in a certain degree) would get less heat from the irked customers.

    Local hosting would definitely help our local hosting industry, and definitely new cables and new routes would be wonderful developments.

  3. watchful eye

    Certainly media hasn’t been focusing on this issue, which is odd considering how not just the call center, but medical transcription, and other services, are surely affected

    hahaha … it looks the Philippine media while always Glue-ful is simply clueless.

  4. jm

    IT empowers the individual and enthrones him as the ‘Man of the Year’ ( You ). But man’s dependency on a technology that is highly vulnerable to (hardware/software) failure and total breakdown has put man’s very survival in very a precarious situation that a mere cable breakage (or a bug) can trigger a chain reaction (autoexec) that can cause the global net to crash setting off power blackouts, global finance/securities/banking systems failures, etc.

    A Global Sword of Damocles is a hanging over the head of the ‘Man of the Year’.

  5. cvj

    JM, you’re right about the Sword of Damocles. As Ben has pointed out above, its basic design point was survivability in the event of a nuclear attack. Here are excerpts from the book Nexus:Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks by Mark Buchanan (2002):

    In 1964, two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, an American engineer wrote a series of technical papers for the RAND Corporation…Baran was working on a schematic design of a nationwide communications network that could withstand a considerable Soviet attack…As a centralized system, the telephone network was highly vulnerable…Attack on just a few of its key control centers could bring the entire network crashing down…Baran’s way around the problem was what he called ‘distributed’ communications network, a web of computers or other communication devices linked by transmission lines, with no more than a handful of such links emerging from each. There would be no control centers of special importance. For the overall network, Baran referred to the average number of links per element as the ‘redundancy’ of the network, and his aim was to show that ‘extremely survivable networks can be built using a moderately low redundancy’…

    …Paul Baran considered two different kinds of distributed networks. One looks like the web of a fishing net…while the other looks rather different.

    This alternative configuration had some of the control centers (i.e. nodes) taking on more important roles (e.g. by taking on more links).

    Baran refered to this as a ‘hierarchical decentralized’ network, and in a series of computer experiments, he demonstrated that networks of this sort would be more susceptible to attack than the fishnet networks

    The protocols of the internet was supposed to allow for a fishnet design, but as the book goes on to describe, the way the internet evolved made it take on the characteristic of a hierarchical decentralized network, rather than the more resilient fishnet (or mesh) network configuration.

    In December of 1998, Cheswick and Birch produced a picture of the internet…the image looks more like the hierarchical network that Baran had dismissed forty years ago as being too vulnerable to attack. There are no easy answers as to why this is, for no one has been overseeing the Internet’s wiring plan. The layout has evolved through innumerable accidents and reflects the decisions of countless individuals, businesses, universities, and so on, which lacked any common theme. Nevertheless, by some mysterious principle of growth, the Internet seems to have had a certain wisdom of its own. For there is an advantage hiding in the hierarchical design that Paul Baran never knew about…

    Unfortunately, those advantages that were described comes at a price of greater vulnerability.

  6. Amadeo

    Any network guy worth his salt is familiar with the concept of redundancy as both an emergency and precautionary measure to protect the integrity of a network. This applies to both small networks such as LANs, WANs, MANs, and even between countries. Thus, when one sector goes down, traffic can be re-routed through other still-operating areas to maintain total integrity.

    Thus, I am surmising that the eventuality now being experienced had already crossed the minds of those who are responsible even before the earthquake incident.

  7. bogchimash

    i’d like to see the likes of serge remonde as information man of malacanang giving his two cents worth on this issue. that will be a hilarious.

  8. bogchimash

    …hilarious kapihan.

  9. DJB

    MLQ3,
    When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) first conceived of the network that eventually became the WWW, it was supposed to be able to withstand the loss of over half its physical infrastructure and nodes, perhaps in a massive nuclear first strike, yet have the surviving fraction still be largely functional and connected. Remarkable how that robust topology is evidenced by survival by it of the recent undersea earthquake and tsunami. We’re all just mostly spoilt by the ease and convenience of earth 21st century broadband internet. You should have seen it when 300 Baud was high speed communication!

  10. UPn student

    That “logical solution — (additional) redundant fibers” is not free, in fact, it ain’t cheap. And Amadeo is right. Network engineers and call center senior managers should have had addressed this in the section titled “contingency planning” and/or “disaster recovery”. But the very low probability of the catastrophic event translated into “nope… we’re not going to pay extra… We’ll let customer service handle the angry customers.”
    I’ll also tell you this. Those same network engineers and call-center senior managers who are now getting yelled still do not want anybody from Malacanang sitting in on technological conference calls.

  11. UPn student

    network engineers…getting yelled at.. still do not want anybody from Malacanang butting in on a business problem.

  12. john marzan

    yoo hoo, anybody home?

  13. Warfighter

    We online gamers are still at disadvantage, especially with major ISPs/telecoms balking at having a fully-united PhIX to reduce packet lag, yet not been able to produce visible improvements in service, and thus the recent disaster at Taiwan shows just how vulnerable we are.

    @UPn:

    You hit the proverbial nail on its head. Most IT organizations here, including MMORPG operators, have yet to conceive of sure-fire contingency plans to avert such problems like this, as well as game server rollbacks.

  14. jm

    cvj, Amadeo,

    Redundancy addresses survivability and improves reliability. But, still, isn’t it a redundancy of dependency? Consider also that IT is dependent on electricity which is still depedent on fossil fuel which is non-renewable and is getting scarce (oil scarcity scare itself can trigger a strategic pre-emptive reaction from super-power(s) that can starve the poor/powerless countries even before the rich/powerful countries feel the pinch; the poor die before the rich gets hungry). The vulnerability of nuclear power plants aggravates the ‘vulnerability index’ of the industry/technology infrastructure/platforms.

    Precarious.

    The vulnerability, in terms of our national and human security, is proportional to our level of dependency on technologies/industries that are dependent on scarce limited and imported resources.

    We are creating our own ‘Sword of Damocles’ which could fall upon us before the ‘The Big wave — HiTek Tsunami – hits other countries. Can we not re-define ‘development’ to get us off this one way road to disaster? A crucial shift in the direction and paradigm of development?

  15. UPn student

    jm… if you want to talk about honest-to-goodness ‘sword of Damocles’ facing Filipinos, think 2 things. First, terrorism. The SuperFerry blast was no hi-tek tsunami, just plain vanilla C4. The second will be the flu pandemic.
    While the ‘internet vulnerability’ is more for the PLDT’s and the call-center and other businesses to solve, “blood on the streets” is the responsibility of the sitting administration.

  16. cvj

    jm, i agree that we need to redefine the paradigm of development (and risk). however, given that we only have one planet, it is impossible for us to carve out our own little corner independent of the rest. our security lies in acknowledging our greater interdependency, making the most out of it, and ensuring that those links are not broken by war, disease, environmental disaster and economic exploitation.

  17. Tikimusic

    Besides terrorism and a flu pandemic, there are more concerns:

    – potable water shortage (e.g., China and India, Philippines during summer; 50 percent of water in Manila lost due to leaks, etc.)

    – depleted aquatic resources and others (deforestation, a drop in agri-production due to drought)

    – peak oil and energy shortage (e.g., net loss for using biofuels, increasing demand and costs for alternative forms of energy)

    – an unstable global economy (e.g., increasing liabilities for the U.S.)

    – other diseases due to combinations of climate change, increasing urban migration and human migration in general, etc. (e.g., antibiotic resistance, human exposure to new viruses, vaccine shortages)

    – nuclear threat (e.g. the doomsday clock was adjusted again; re U.S., North Korea, Iran, Israel, etc.)

    – increasing arms sales production and sales, with increasing incidences of war

    – climate change (either human-induced or not), with combinations of species extinction, etc.

    It’s possible that with combinations of these problems, esp. peak oil, Internet problems will become minor issues in the future.

  18. cvj

    We can add the threat of a comet or asteroid hitting the planet or the eruption of a supervolcano (like Toba in Sumatra which nearly wiped us out 75,000 years ago and Yellowstone National park which blew up 600,000 years ago). Beyond that are threats coming from outer space (e.g. nearby supernova).

    The only way to deal with these threats is for our civilization to graduate to a Type I civilization in terms of technological capabilities as defined by Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev. (refer to the wikipedia entry on ‘Kardashev Scale’). The key would be the ability to find and harness sources of energy much greater than what is currently available.

  19. jm

    Btw, in a conference on most serious threat to human survival, the breakdown of the family topped the list over nuclear war, terrorism, diseases, famine and others.

    How had ‘techy-lifestyle’ affected families? Are ‘techy’families stronger than traditional families in remote tech

  20. jm

    In a conference on most serious threats to human survival, the breakdown of families topped the list over nuclear war, terrorism, diseases, famine and others.

    How had hi-technology affected families in this regard?

    Are there less unnecessary distractions and pressures on traditional Filipino families in remote, technologically primitive, barrios?

    Point is, why go with the (global) flow? follow the lead and dictates of dominant economies?

  21. cvj

    jm, i haven’t come across studies on how technology affects families. i would go with the null hypothesis that tech families are no more or less dysfunctional than the non-tech ones. for me, i use technology as a means to keep contact so the net effect on family is positive.

    As for going with the global flow, we have to go where the jobs are available. If the software industry, Business Process Outsourcing, Call Centers, software development and other such businesses takes off in a big way as it has in India, then there will be more options to stay home.

  22. jm

    IT is unsustainable and vulnerable. I would prefer that the Gov’t adhere to it’s mandate:

    Art 12 Sect 1
    “The State shall promote industrialization and full employment based on sound agricultural development and agrarian reform, through industries that make full and efficient use of human and natural resources, and which are competitive in both domestic and foreign markets…”

  23. cvj

    jm, the service sector (including IT) are the fastest growing sectors of the economy. If and when agriculture takes off and/or agrarian reform succeeds, productivity in that sector will increase meaning less people will be needed to cultivate the land. The surplus labor in agriculture would then have to be absorbed by manufacturing and services, the latter being more labor intensive.

  24. jm

    cvj, DA and NFA complain of land and labor conversions as causes of inadequate agricultural productivity. Priorities must be put in order to align use of resources, primarily, labor.

  25. cvj

    jm, sorry i’m not familiar with the DA & NFA’s issue on land conversion. is the land conversion being done because of genuine demand for housing or mostly to avoid land reform? if the former, i think it is not entirely a bad thing because genuine housing needs must be met. i would have thought that (land) productivity is a separate issue which can be addressed by taking steps to increase yield per given area. i don’t disagree on the need to align labor resources, but i don’t think it means abandoning IT or related areas as i think it’s a way for a lot of our youth to get ahead in life.

  26. jm

    cvj, if we take a closer look at the constitutional provision on development and if our leaders take it to heart, I believe, Filipinos would be better off in terms of human development and human security. Filipinos with healthier minds on healthier bodies have better chances of realizing their potential to the fullest in various
    fields specially IT.

    Prioritizing agriculture does not mean abandoning or taking away resource from IT. Prioritizing agriculture prioritizes the basic need — food — of IT’s primary resource — the Filipino.

  27. tikimusic

    Never mind comets and threats from outer space. What I listed above, including peak oil, will affect the solutions concerning technology and agriculture mentioned by CVJ and JM.

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