Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Internet is in the ground

We got a good lesson in the realities of the Internet at the BCTF today.  Our access to the world--and the world to us--was cut off when a crew working outside our office cut through the cable that connects us to the Internet.  Our telephones were down as well because we have voice over the Internet.

It reminded me of a book I read just last week called Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum.

Blum said the image we have of the Internet is that it is in the air--circulating around us, making connections globally.  Talk of the "cloud" as a place where you can save files outside of your own hard drive accentuates that ethereal sense of the Internet.

The reality, though, is the Internet is actually tubes that carry the data around the world.  It is almost all under the ground or under the oceans, with mostly fiber optic cable carrying the information.

Blum's story is a good read.  He is a journalist, not a techie, and brings journalistic skills to the book.
He travelled around the world, looking at the physical elements--the tubes that carry the data and the hubs that link the various networks to make it the internet.  He watched as a cable emerged from under the ocean with a new connection between Africa and North America.  He went down a manhole in New York where some workers were installing another cable.

He visited the massive server farms of Google and Facebook in eastern Oregon--again the physical places that store data in concrete, physical buildings.  The "cloud" is thousands of servers that are so physical that they require vast air conditioning to cool off the heat generated.
The real irony of our situation of losing the connection to the Internet was that the crew that cut through our cable right outside the office in Vancouver was putting in an additional tube to carry more cables to add to the Internet.

The Internet is really in the ground, not in the cloud.

No comments:

Post a Comment