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Why the Mediterranean Is the Net's Achilles' Heel 195

Posted by kdawson
from the raise-plow-blade dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A spate of broken cables has brought disruption for many of the world's Web users in 2008 — and the Med has been at the center of the problems. For political reasons, the Mediterranean Sea is an Internet bottleneck through which the majority of traffic between Europe and Asia is squeezed. That traffic must run the gauntlet of earthquakes and heavy maritime traffic to reach its destination. Better and stronger cables are urgently needed to avoid a re-occurrence of the 2008 outages."
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Why the Mediterranean Is the Net's Achilles' Heel

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:57PM (#26438325) Journal

    Why the Mediterranean Is the Net's Achilles' Heel

    Becuase Radia Perlman [slashdot.org] held the Internet by the Mediterranean when she dipped it into the river Styx [wikipedia.org]?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by philspear (1142299)

      It sounds more like this is the internet's jugular vein or carotid artery than the achilles heel, just to pointlessly analyze the metaphor. I would think the achilles heel would be people who still don't know not to click the monkey or open attachments from addresses they don't know.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Becuase Radia Perlman held the Internet by the Mediterranean when she dipped it into the river Styx?

      Goodness gracious. I can't believe that after all these millennia that people still haven't learned the most basic lesson of the story of Achilles: When dipping something into the Styx, use tongs so you can dip it all the way without getting your hand wet!

    • And then it has to go by Paris.
  • no mystery who cuts a cable when they sink at the same time, is there? a few of those, the marked cable routes will be avoided.

  • Jeez. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:05PM (#26438447)

    In the 90s it was backhoes. Now it's giant cable-eating squid. What next, volcanic eruptions? Really, the problem is two-fold -- first, cables break. Hey, it's several thousand miles long and several thousand feet down, and it's just laying there. Of course it's going to break. You could make the cables out of Unobtainium and they will still wither and break eventually. It's a fact of life. The real problem isn't that they fail, the problem is that the telecommunications companies don't have redundant links because of the expense. So, in summary, the problem is economics. And Cthulu. But you can't stop one of the great old ones, so let's focus on redundant links instead. -_-

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by y86 (111726)

      In the 90s it was backhoes. Now it's giant cable-eating squid. What next, volcanic eruptions? Really, the problem is two-fold -- first, cables break

      Great point. I suggest lasers.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/07/14/lucent_highlights_laser_networking_system/ [theregister.co.uk]

      • However, using what the company calls Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology, the system will eventually operate at 10Gbps for distances up to five kilometers

        Your cunning plan, I don't think you've thought it through.

    • Re:Jeez. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:29PM (#26438817) Journal

      So, in summary, the problem is economics. And Cthulu.

      He Who Lies Dead but Dreaming has no part to play in the damage to undersea cables, I have this on good authority. The Telcos are actually agents of Cthulhu (duh! -- you should know this by now if you've ever called telco tech support); the internet is just one of his dreams, which will serve to increase chaos and drive us all to madness.

      Seriously, though, blaming the problem on economics is a copout. Why are costs to lay redundant cables so high? What can be done to convince the telcos that laying redundant cables is a good idea? What can tip the CBA to the B side?
      (br>There are lots of reasons a truly redundant system is prohibitively expense. The cost of negotiating rights-of-way through multiple nations, for example. The increased costs to shipping (external cost to the telcos) from avoiding cable paths (and this is magnified with true redundancy, since redundant cables should not follow the same path). The costs of running and maintaining landlines in politically unstable areas. And, not least of all, the costs in materials, capital, and labor to run redundant lines.

      The way to tip the scale in favor of running redundant lines is to either reduce the cost of doing so, or increase the benefit from doing so. How much money do the telcos lose when a line goes down? Over time, is that more than the cost of running redundant lines?

      So yes, it's economics, but saying it's economics is glossing over the important details.

      • Re:Jeez. (Score:5, Funny)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:41PM (#26438971)

        Seriously, though, blaming the problem on economics is a copout.

        Not all of us type "KeyserSoze 10000" at the console whenever faced with a gold shortage.

        Why are costs to lay redundant cables so high?

        Perhaps designing something that is several thousand miles long, and under several hundred PSI of pressure, to lay at the bottom of an environment that contains sulphuric acid plumbs, volcanic pits, and large numbers of angry monsters, is not easy.

        What can be done to convince the telcos that laying redundant cables is a good idea? What can tip the CBA to the B side?

        Threats of violence, regulation, and regular bombing of the opposition has worked well for us in other areas.

        How much money do the telcos lose when a line goes down? Over time, is that more than the cost of running redundant lines?

        Obviously, it is not more than the cost of running redundant lines or they would have done so by now.

        So yes, it's economics, but saying it's economics is glossing over the important details.

        Circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because...

        • Re:Jeez. (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @06:07PM (#26440161)

          So yes, it's economics, but saying it's economics is glossing over the important details.

          Circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because...

          I'm with you so far, but then what?

        • The current model is that most providers lease space from a competitor for the time it takes to repair their own link. That's a hell of a lot cheaper than laying extra cable, or allowing your service to go completely dead. Ownership of the cable (like terrestrial lines) is a web of consortiums and leaseholds that make the cost of providing some redundancy a lot less than 2X.

    • Pakistan did it when they were off net for weeks in 2005. If you look at recent outages you'll see Pakistan is relatively unaffected because they spent money fixing the lack of redundancy.
    • by LehiNephi (695428)
      Just in the 90's? Gee, our internet connection got cut last year by a backhoe.

      Actually, it doesn't take an anchor per se to cut a cable. If the anchor is tethered by a steel wire cable instead of a chain, the steel cable will chew right through the fiber-optic cable, no matter how many layers of armor it has. The anchor itself doesn't have to do the cutting.
    • The real problem isn't that they fail, the problem is that the telecommunications companies don't have redundant links because of the expense.

      Last time this came up, somebody in the field posted that the cables just aren't shielded in most locations, because of the expense. There are apparently best practices that have certain pipes or something wrapped around the cables in anchor areas, and certain depths they're supposed to bury the cables at, but they just skip those parts.

      They obviously feel it's cheap

      • They obviously feel it's cheaper to settle the terms of their SLA's than lay cable properly. So, customers need to demand better (more expensive) SLA's and that equation can change.

        It's difficult to demand a higher SLA without paying outrageous prices or the provider saying "Hey, industry standard. Deal with it"

        • It's difficult to demand a higher SLA without paying outrageous prices or the provider saying "Hey, industry standard. Deal with it"

          Yeah, everybody would have to do it together.

    • Actually, the cables are buried, but the currents and earth quakes can expose the cables in spots.
  • heh (Score:5, Funny)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:06PM (#26438475) Homepage Journal

    I never had any issues any of the times this happened. I was able to do all the stuff I normally do and visit all the sites I normally visits. This leads me to conclude that the solution is rather simple. The people who are affected by these outages should do something.

  • easy fix (Score:5, Funny)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:09PM (#26438525)
    I thought of something that should be a pretty simple fix. Why don't they just string the wires over the Mediterranean?
    • by jonbryce (703250)

      You can maybe do that between Gibraltar and Morocco, but then you have the problem of getting the Spanish and Gibraltar governments to agree to a cable across their border.

      • by jzarling (600712)
        I saw and article or maybe a tv show once that mentioned the currents through the straits are pretty intense, Im betting it was thought of and ruled out because of this.
    • by Repton (60818)

      The Mediterranean is in the middle of the world. Any route that doesn't go through it is longer, and thus costs more. HTH!

  • by ninti (610358) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:09PM (#26438527)
    The article seems a little alarmist. For instance, this line: "The 2008 outages hit local economies hard and a stronger quake could plausibly bring Mediterranean economies to their knees, by denying them access to crucial global markets for days or weeks. A 2005 study at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich calculated that a nationwide internet blackout would cost Switzerland 1% of its GDP per week." But of course a cut in the Mediterranean will not be a "nationwide internet blackout" for Switzerland much at all. In fact, if India and the mid-east gets cut off from the rest of the Internet, the rest of the world won't care all that much.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonbryce (703250)

      If India was cut off, that would be a major problem for all the companies that have outsourced call centre and tech jobs to them, and for their customers.

      • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:37PM (#26438931) Homepage Journal
        Fuck 'em.

        That'll teach companies to move their jobs overseas. Those companies(and their overpaid executives) can cry a river to the employees they laid off only to give their jobs to India. Mods: I ask you to think about this before you mod me down, but if you want to waste your points, I don't give a fuck! :) Have a nice day.
        • by dwarg (1352059) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:44PM (#26439861)

          I considered modding you down, but decided to comment instead.

          I understand your sentiment, but what you're ultimately suggesting is that we eliminate access to the internet for any country with a cheap labor pool. This punishes the citizens of those countries more than it does the execs of the major corporations that exploit them.

          This story is about an international communications issue. If you want to talk about labor issues I would say this:

          There are many powerful people trying to make protectionism a dirty word, if we want to fight them we have to be specific in our demands on who deserves Free Trade agreements or gets Preferred Trade Status. Protecting workers rights "over there" means increasing labor costs "over there" and makes them less appealing than local workers when you factor in communications and shipping costs (environmental protections should also figure into that equation). When they can treat their employees humanely, pay them a living wage, stop tainting the local water supply and still afford to send products to our markets cheaper than we can, then they deserve those jobs and we don't.

          The problem is that we've spotted our competitors a huge advantage by not holding them to any of the standards we hold ourselves to. Which means we tied our own hands, or maybe slit our own throats.

          • by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @08:47PM (#26441989)
            I understand your sentiment, but what you're ultimately suggesting is that we eliminate access to the internet for any country with a cheap labor pool.

            I heard it as a complaint that the CEOs are looking to short-term gains and not counting the very real risk that network connectivity from the US to India may be impaired at some points. If they didn't examine and account for that risk in their calculations, then they are incompetent or liars (or both).

            When they can treat their employees humanely, pay them a living wage, stop tainting the local water supply and still afford to send products to our markets cheaper than we can, then they deserve those jobs and we don't.

            Which is why the US should have tarrifs on a per-country basis related to worker conditions and environmental care. If they "externalize" industry cost by dumping toxins rather than cleaning or storing them, then we should increase the cost here by that amount. They can pay for good practices or we will charge them so that they would be making the same if they did.
      • Hm, let me adjust my tinfoil hat for a second...

        Say some organization wants to reduce offshoring in the US, as a means of stimulating employment in the US.

        Say that one way to 'encourage' bringing offshore jobs back onshore is to limit the benefits (or increase the costs) of offshoring.

        Say that there is a small number of vulnerable points, that disabling of would greatly increase costs/reduce benefits of offshoring.

        Say that the organization mentioned above has access to the greatest naval materiel in the
  • Redundant routes duh

  • Gauntlet != Gantlet (Score:2, Informative)

    by hedronist (233240) *

    Arrrrgggghhhh! From Bartleby.com:

    A gauntlet is "a heavy glove, often armored" or "a glove with a heavy cuff covering part of the arm." To throw down the gauntlet is to challenge someone; to pick up the gauntlet is to accept someone's challenge.

    A gantlet is "a lane between two lines of people armed with staves or whips, through which someone being punished is forced to run while being clubbed or whipped by the people on either side" (run the gantlet) and, figuratively, "any series of trials and difficulties.

    • Because I'm sure as hell not going to tell him.
    • Torn between being happy knowing how to use the word properly, but having (yet) ANOTHER thing about which to be a grammar nazi.

      So thank you, but only a little bit. No, slightly less than that.

    • by Xolotl (675282) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:31PM (#26438841) Journal

      Actually gauntlet is the preferred spelling for both, although the etymology behind the use of gauntlet for punishment is different (the first meaning is from French, the second from Spanish). Gantlet is also correct, although archaic, for both.

      See: gauntlet [thefreedictionary.com].

    • by Chabo (880571)
      Are they pronounced the same?
    • by sunking2 (521698)
      Get off my lawn!
    • by demonbug (309515)

      According to the all-powerful Google:define [google.com] (and the Oxford Dictionary [askoxford.com]), gantlet appears to be an alternative spelling of Gauntlet. They do, in fact, mean the same thing(s).

      Thanks for playing, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Minwee (522556)
      And here I thought a 'Gantlet' was a chart which showed exactly when you would be hit with whips and staves, so that each hit would come after the ones before it and only when there were enough people and whips available to do it.
    • A gantlet is "a lane between two lines of people armed with staves or whips, through which someone being punished is forced to run while being clubbed or whipped by the people on either side"

      Sort of like the Klingon Rite of Ascencion, then?

      Actually, Bartleby Says [bartleby.com]:

      If you are not sure whether you should throw down the gantlet or the gauntlet, don't throw in the towel. There are two words spelled gauntlet and both have gantlet as a spelling variant, so you can't go wrong.

      So, if you can't go wrong, I'm not

    • Actually, the Oxford English Dictionary lists "Gantlet" as a subset of Gauntlet under sense 7. I would link to the entry, but it's behind a firewall. Furthermore, Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage [amazon.com] says:

      Some confusion exists about the status of these spelling variants. The argument is sometimes heard that they represent etymologically distinct words, and that gantlet is the only correct choice--or at least the preferable one--in the common phrase run the ga(u)ntlet. This argument is mi

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:18PM (#26438667) Journal
    Instead of cables, which can be broken, they could use optical links.

    Due to the distance and bandwidth needed, powerful lasers would be needed.

    Since vast stretches of open water need to be covered, an aquatic platform would be needed, one that could be repositioned for optimal spacing or to avoid obstacles.

    Unlike other gratuitous mentions, this really is a case were we could use some frikin sharks, with frikin lasers mounted on their heads.
  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:21PM (#26438711) Homepage Journal

    Don't worry, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia! I know your Internet access hangs rather perilously, but calm yourself! I've written a song about it!

    (somber, drum beat a la "Ballad of the Green Berets")

    O Brave Achilles
    Your packets spill
    Through the Black Sea
    and the Dardanelles

    A hero bold
    So proud and true
    The finest bits
    Traverse his tubes

    But when the Fates
    Judge the big wet
    Will their fell looms
    Cut the Internet?

    (LUTE SOLO)

  • Uncharted (Score:5, Informative)

    by dj015 (680676) <darryl&sailingaway,co,uk> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:24PM (#26438749) Homepage
    Though there is abviously no excuse for the cables that have been there for a while with newer cables you often find that they have been layed straight through what was once an anchorage as they get closer to shore and nobody has "gotten around" to updating any of the charts yet. I had this situation in the Azores a while back when we anchored in what was shown in all charts and publications to be the only anchorage available only to be met on the dock by a not so friendly police man shouting something in Portuguese along the lines of we just laid a load of fiber optic cables through there and your anchor is on top of them... of course we moved immediately into the port which was what we planed to do in the afternoon but when we asked the Harbour Master why there had been no notice to mariners about the new cabled a shrug of the shoulders was the most informative answer we could get.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by eth1 (94901)

      Those cables must have been laid by amateurs. The lengths cable-layers normally go to accurately chart their cables and avoid areas where people anchor are quite impressive. [wired.com]

  • Maybe (Score:5, Funny)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:34PM (#26438877)

    Maybe Cthulhu will quit trashing the lines if we offer to set him up a frame r'lyeh switch back at his pad. You know he's all about pirating the tentacle pr0n.

  • >> Better and stronger cables are urgently needed to avoid a re-occurrence of the 2008 outages." ...Except I seem to recall that it appeared to be deliberate sabotage, as in both big cases of the Mediterranean outages, multiple key cables all went down within hours of each other after years of no problems.

    Just laying stronger cables obviously won't make much of a difference if it was indeed sabotage.

  • Because somebody keeps cutting the cables and blaming it on ship anchors?

  • Partially tongue-in-cheek, partially serious....but my Internet in the US works just fine to connect to other US destinations likely without passing through the Mediterranean. 99.9% of my destinations are US-based and hosted - I know the US isn't the center of the world, but this sounds like an Achilles' Heel for the *other* side of the world :-P
    • What if your favorite DNS server happens to use a multicast address, and for some strange routing reasons, your queries get routed to the other side of the world... perhaps through the Med, every now and then? Or if you even happend to be an mDNS [multicastdns.org] early adopter/tester/developer/..., and the same happens? And even if you didn't look so far, network links get congested, and traffic could easily overflow to peering networks, and this could very well mean, that ISP A and ISP B, both in the US, transmit packets
  • Seems to me if they had more landings (eg multiple landings per country per cable) then it would be more robust. Probably most of the breaks happen close-ist to shore so have a backbone in the middle (or 10 miles out) at a landing every so often.

    And software that can route around a land-10-mile break.

  • Why sea cables? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:33PM (#26439701)

    Europe and Asia are connected by land. While it might have to divert around a few non-cooperative countries, you'd think that sufficient backbone could be laid down over land routes to all necessary countries. It seems like underwater cables would be used only when absolutely necessary (such as from North America to Europe or Austrialia to Asia - and even then satellite is available (though with higher latency and lower bandwidth).

    • by qw0ntum (831414)
      It also seems like it might be more expensive and/or complicated to lay cable overland for thousands of miles versus underwater for thousands of miles. Think about what moves on the sea floor. Now think about what moves around on earth's surface. Now think about getting a right-of-way across Asia and coordinating with all the governments and private landowners that you'd have to deal with. So I think it is probably easier just to drop a cable under the ocean, since it's going to be more protected from peopl
    • according to an article (referenced below, very entertaining article which I suggest you read when you have the time), laying undersea cable a bit safer than overland, because "anyone with a bulldozer" can be a fool and do damage to your line.

      see here (again, one of the best articles I've ever read):
      http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass.html [wired.com]
      or here
      [j-bradford-delong.net] http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/OpEd/virtual/stephenson.html [j-bradford-delong.net]
    • Why sea cables? Europe and Asia are connected by land. While it might have to divert around a few non-cooperative countries, you'd think that sufficient backbone could be laid down over land routes to all necessary countries.

      Because laying land cables is extraordinarily expensive - after all, sea bed is free while someone owns the land. Another problem is that you'll be laying cable across some pretty tough and inhospitable terrain far from civilization, which raises maintenance costs considerably. Final

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Europe and Asia are connected by land. While it might have to divert around a few non-cooperative countries, you'd think that sufficient backbone could be laid down over land routes to all necessary countries.

      Well, lets exclude Iraq, Iran, and Afganistan. Then exclude running a cable over the Himilayas. Then you pretty much have to run it undeasea to get to India. Even if you did try a Himilayan route, that would probably end up going through China. How's that great firewall coming? Want to get it in
    • by jonwil (467024)

      Run cables all throughout Europe (if they aren't there already) and then run the cables down through Greece, Turkey and other friendly countries into the Red Sea and through to Asia or so.
      I see no reason why the cables have to run down the length of the Mediterranean (up until you hit Turkey or so, all the countries it would need to run through are part of the EU now so it would be easy to just draw up an EU wide set of rules for it)

  • Whatever happened to the idea that the Internet routes around damage? I can no longer connect to vesti.ru because the route from my ISP to Moscow goes through Telia's routers and they no longer peer with Russia either through design, damage, or poor maintenance. Shouldn't the packets get rerouted if a particular link is down?
  • If performance to half way round the world was comparable to performance locally, oh what a world it would be! We might see breakthroughs in international co-operation, from the grassroots popular level up. Nationalist isolationism would be relegated to the old farts (defined as one who has never twittered. Shit that's me.)

    Yes I know there are unavoidable speed of light related latency issues with distance, but I'm saying that efforts should be made to make raw throughput (bandwidth) comparable from arbitra

  • I don't know much about the physical topology of the internet, but how come there isn't any redundancy the other way? String a few cables to Russia, to Asia through them. It seems to me like the Bering Strait would be a much shorter and simpler hop than the Mediterranean.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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