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Two If by Sea

In the course of just over a week starting on Jan. 30, a total of five undersea data cables linking Europe, Africa and the Middle East were damaged or disrupted. The first two cables to be lost link Europe with Egypt and terminate near the Port of Alexandria.

Early speculation placed the blame on ship anchors that might have dragged across the sea floor during heavy weather. But the subsequent loss of cables in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean has produced a chilling numbers game. Someone, it seems, may be trying to sabotage the global network.

It's a conclusion that came up at a recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) press conference. According to an Associated Press report, ITU head of development Sami al-Murshed isn't ready to "rule out that a deliberate act of sabotage caused the damage to the undersea cables over two weeks ago."

You think?

In just seven or eight days, five undersea cables were disrupted. Five. All of them serving or connecting to the Middle East. And thus far, only one cable cut -- linking Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- has been identified as accidental, caused by a dragging ship anchor.

So what does it mean for developers? A lot, actually. Because it means that the coming wave of service-enabled applications needs to take into account the fact that the cloud is, literally, under attack.

This isn't new. For as long as the Internet has been around, concerns about service availability and performance for cloud-reliant enterprise apps have centered on the ability of the global network to withstand a malicious attack or disruptive event. Twice -- once in 2002 and again in 2007 -- DDOS attacks have targeted the 13 DNS root servers, threatening to disrupt the Internet.

But assaults on the remote physical infrastructure of the global network are especially concerning. These cables lie hundreds or even thousands of feet beneath the surface. This wasn't a script-kiddie kicking off an ill-advised DOS attack on a server. This was almost certainly a sophisticated, well-planned, well-financed and well-thought-out effort to cut off an entire section of the world from the global Internet.

Clearly, efforts need to be made to ensure that the intercontinental cable infrastructure of the Internet is hardened. Redundant, geographically dispersed links, with plenty of excess bandwidth, are a good start.

But development planners need to do their part, as well. Web-based applications shouldn't be crafted with the expectation of limitless bandwidth. Services and apps must be crafted so that they can fail gracefully, shift to lower-bandwidth media (such as satellite) and provide priority to business-critical operations. In short, your critical cloud-reliant apps must continue to work, when almost nothing else will.

And all this, I might add, as the industry prepares to welcome the second generation of rich Internet application tools and frameworks. Silverlight 2.0 will debut at MIX08 next month. Adobe is upping the ante with its latest offerings. Developers will enjoy a major step up in their ability to craft enriched, Web-entangled applications and environments.

But as you make your plans and write your code, remember this one thing: The people, organization or government that most likely sliced those four or five cables in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf -- they can do it again.

Have the suspicious cuts to undersea cables generated any concern or evaluation within your organization? Let me know at mdesmond@reddevnews.com.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 02/19/2008 at 1:15 PM


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