Third Internet cable breaks; IT groups on alert

For the third time this week, a big internet pipe has had an underwater mishap: Friday, it was a cable off the coast of Dubai, with officials offering no word on what caused the problem, according to CNN reports. For most enterprise IT groups, however, this series of Net traffic accidents has been more watch and wait than headache, so far.

When word spread on Thursday that bandwidth in India had been cut in half thanks to some sliced sub-Mediterranean cables on Wednesday, global IT leaders and their vendors quickly went about the work of mitigating the potential effects of the disruption.

"We were able to route traffic through Hong Kong," says Steve Bandrowszak, CIO of Nortel. As a result, the US$11.42 billion telecom provider-which has a technology center of excellence in Bangalore, satellite operations in several other Indian cities, and outsourcing partnerships with Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, and Infosys-experienced no business disruption.

For most, it was a watching-and-waiting game. Bill Maguire, CIO of Virgin America, began monitoring the Burlingame, Calif.-based airline's traffic and performance the minute he heard about the problem Thursday morning, but saw no impact. John Stadick, director of IT at Sunbelt Rentals, a construction equipment rental company in Fort Mill, S.C., was also on alert. Sunbelt's parent company, Ashtead Group, is based in the U.K. and runs a private trans-Atlantic link to usher data traffic between the U.S. and London. When Stadick heard about the India problem, he had his network manager put automated traffic monitors on the Atlantic lines "just to be safe," he says. "We don't send a huge amount of traffic through it, but it's still a vital link back to our parent company."

"You really need to know more about the route your traffic goes over. I suspect a lot of companies (could have felt) it on the east coast. Their traffic flows that way because it is a shorter distance so response times are reduced," says Virgin America's Maguire. "You have to lean on your telco provider. They own the relationship with the companies that manage the ocean based lines."

Ultimately no major disruptions related to India's decreased bandwidth were reported as of Friday. "India has redundant connections to the rest of the world," says Dean Davison, vice president of marketing and research for offshore outsourcing consultancy neoIT. "Ten years ago, this would have been a big problem (for India). It was kind of like when Blackberry has an outage: all the Blackberry users are upset, but that was only a subset of the market. The countries that were impacted the most only have one major link to the rest of the world. I really don't think that it was much news for India, but it was a very big deal for the Middle East."

For those who outsource software development to Indian providers, the Internet issues were not a big concern. "In many cases the build takes place offsite and does not require direct integration on a real-time basis," says Shawn Berg, vice president of technology operations at JM Family Enterprises, a Deefield Beach, Fla.-based automotive services company that offshores development work to Cybage and Keane in India. "We have not heard of any hard impact at this time."

The major concern Thursday was whether real-time services provided via the Internet from India-such as call center support and network monitoring-would be affected.

Maguire, whose Virgin America infrastructure is managed remotely by CSS Corp. out of Chennai, says the overnight team in India had no problems with network access.

P. V. Kannan, CEO 24/7 Customer, a Campbell, Calif.-headquartered provider of Indian call centers, says his company saw some slowdown and ultimately full recovery. "My guess is that (Internet providers) are keeping the corporate customers alive and probably squeezing out home user who may face more serious disruption and slowdown," says Kannan. "We always have 100 percent backup routes that go across the Pacific and Atlantic to tackle this kind of stuff. Our providers are prepared."

EDS, a Plano-Tex.-based IT services provider with operations in India, set up an emergency hotline to receive calls from concerned clients, according to spokesperson Blake Hull. Only two calls came in, and those were from clients experiencing problems with networks EDS did not manage. EDS says it had "no known interruptions to service" as a result of the cable damage.

By Friday, India's Internet services were operating at about 80 percent of capacity with officials saying that normal service could be restored within a week, according to a report by the Associated Press. "There are multiple points of redundancy on both the west and east coast of India," says Cliff Justice, managing director of globalization for outsourcing advisory EquaTerra. "So if the companies have planned properly, there should be little impact. This does serve as a reminder for clients to conduct due diligence and ensure the appropriate disaster recovery and redundancy plans are in place."

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