Tags: Blum | Internet | nodes | cables

Andrew Blum on the Internet’s Tubes

By Robert Feinberg   |   Wednesday, 09 Jan 2013 02:33 PM

Andrew Blum, a writer for Wired magazine and author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, described what the Internet is and how its various components — networks, data warehouses, and undersea cables — operate to deliver the content on which much of commerce now depends. He spoke with host Peter Slen on C-SPAN’s Communicators program.

Blum started his remarks with a reference to a physical map of the Internet that was printed in Milwaukee, noting there are roughly 12 major nodes of the Internet located around the world in places like New York, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Ashburn, Va., which happens to be near Dulles airport. He described the appearance of the major nodes as “deliberately generic, like the loading docks of a shopping mall, trying to hide in plain sight from people who drive by.”

He added that some are in old telegraph “palaces,” while others have a “cyberific” look, deliberately modeled after science fiction. The buildings are “incredibly loud, and incredibly cold, from all the air conditioners” that cool the equipment. Major systems are kept in cages and physically connected by fiber optic cables, carrying 10 gigabits/second to other systems. The modules are replaced from time to time to improve the speed drastically.

Asked to describe a network, Blum responded that it is an “autonomous system” that could be global in scale or serve a single law firm. The network relies on trust among network engineers, and it has no regulation. So-called “Internet backbone” companies, like Level 3, own strands of glass and the equipment that illuminates the fibers and transmits the data.

For example, an email to Kenya would go from a complex of buildings in Ashburn called Equinix, then through 60 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan, a major node for the transatlantic cables, then through Telehouse, a single building in London, then straight to a landing station in Mumbasa, right at the ancient port of Kenya.

Blum recounted that transatlantic cables have existed for 150 years, and the current generation of about a dozen were laid from 1997 to 2002 and are owned by backbone companies; large telecom consortia, like Verizon, British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom; or specialized boutique companies, such as Hibernia Atlantic.

On the Pacific side, Google has developed part of the infrastructure, and Tata owns cables in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The most robust network in the world is owned by Goldman Sachs, and its value was proven when it was able to operate through Superstorm Sandy. During the storm, 60 Hudson switched over to diesel power through backup generators.

In response to a question as to whether the nodes would be terror targets, Blum said there’s too much redundancy for that. The leaders of the industry are more concerned about adverse legislation from Washington than about terrorism. The conversation on policy is discontinuous between the network engineers and the policymakers on issues like net neutrality. He noted that reference to the “cloud” is a marketing term for the aggregate of the Internet.

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Robert-Feinberg
Andrew Blum, a writer for Wired magazine and author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, described what the Internet is and how its various components — networks, data warehouses, and undersea cables — operate to deliver the content on which much of commerce now depends.
Blum,Internet,nodes,cables
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2013-33-09
 

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