A core component of the Internet in the UK has suffered a severe and unexpected blackout just weeks before it transfers to new failsafe cables.
The trouble began on 21 February, when a transatlantic cable was severed and back-up systems failed to kick in. This left Britain's largest network, the Joint Academic Network (Janet), unable to communicate with North America for more than 24 hours.
Mike Richardson, a network manager at the University of Manchester, said the outage made it very inconvenient to get out of the UK. "It also caused look up problems," he added.
It had been widely believed that the Internet's origin as a military communication system meant it would survive even a nuclear assault. In fact, the severing of a transatlantic cable near Iceland was enough to cause damage.
The breakdown brought immediate criticism from Janet's operator, the UK Academic and Research Network (UKARN). "The underlying cause was a fault on the transatlantic cable, but restoration should not have taken so long," said Ian Smith, UKARN's production services director. "We are conducting an investigation into the incident."
Teleglobe International operates the cable that Janet uses. It said that service was restored as soon as possible. Normally, Internet traffic would be redirected via another cable, but Teleglobe said this did not happen because the volume of traffic was too high.
Teleglobe owns one of the world's most extensive internet backbones, which is used by more than 100 ISPs from 71 countries. Far more robust cables, with redundant paths, will be in use in a matter of weeks.
For more stories see 3 March issue of Network News
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