Cutting Off the Cloud in South Silicon Valley
by Hu Yoshida on Apr 10, 2009
Yesterday I left the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel in Orlando where I had been attending SNW at 6:30 am to catch my flight back to San Jose via Dallas. I called my wife to let her know what time to expect me but I could not get through. On my stop in Dallas, I called again to our home phone in Morgan Hill and to her cell phone with no luck. It wasn’t until I landed in San Jose that I learned that all cell, landline, internet and ATM connections south of San Jose were out due to a cut in the fiber optic cables that connects from San Jose to the Southern part of Silicon Valley where I live.
It appears to have been a case of sabotage. The papers today report that fiber optic cables were cut in four different locations, in specially locked manholes. Service was restored by this morning.
Thankfully no disasters occured during this interval, although the potential was there since emergency responders were out of communications. School kids reported feeling isolated without their cell phones and instant messaging. Without ATM service, long lines gathered at banks as people tried to draw mony or make deposits to cover electronic payments. The cafeteria reported having to issue IOUs to cover lunch because many people no long carry paper money. An auto repair shop could not do any maintenance since he could not run diagnostics or order parts for the new computer intensive cars.
This was a wakeup call for us and the contingency plans are being studied to avoid future disruptions like this. One obvious response is to build in redundancy but this could be very expensive as IT people know. Many communications networks are shared. These fiber cables belonged to ATT and were being leased by Verizon. It affected cell service by Nextel, Sprint, and ATT since the cell towers were connected to the ATT fiber cables to their switching stations.
Cables like these are often cut by construction workers accidentally, so warning signs are posted near the location of buried fiber channel cables. Unfortunately these warning signs can also be targets. In areas of hurricanes and tornados, cables are often cut by the up rooting of trees. Add to this the new exposures of sabotage and terrorism and incidents like this may not be so uncommon in the future.
At SNW there were many sessions on cloud computing, accessing IT resources over public networks. As we move to this new model, we need to invest in protection and recovery of that network if that model is to be successful.