April 30, 2007

Still Seeking Web Robustness After Prolonged Outage

To hear today's broadband-addicted geeks talk (er... type), you would think we could replace the nation's 9-1-1 emergency system with an intelligent mashup of Twitter, Instant Messaging, Blogging and RSS feeds. Some expect that in a time of crisis, if the nation's telephone systems are overloaded, that the Web would step in to save the day. But tonight, hours of sluggish Web access, which more closely resembled a Web abscess, only further highlighted to me that we have a long way to go before thinking we've got the ultimate answer.

Around 9 or so this evening, despite having full range of our wireless Internet here at home, I couldn't check e-mail, log on to the company network via VPN, or even load Web sites. Safari would tell me "4 of 15 items" had loaded, and the progress bar would stall. Doubting my wireless, I connected directly via Ethernet to our cable modem, and again, had no success. I even tried to connect to the open WiFi networks from our neighbors, and those that have acted as backups in the past weren't there to save me now.

And it turns out I wasn't the only one seeing issues. Not only was my wife's laptop not getting through, but via BlackBerry, I learned other colleagues were seeing similar slowdowns at their homes, as we all commiserated, complaining we couldn't pass over needed reports. Now nearly four hours later, I still can't log in from my home network, directly connected or otherwise, but did finally find a network which is letting me perform the basics - finally send an abbreviated update, catch up on Google Reader, check my standings on Ballhype, and synchronize all e-mail. A quick scan of Google News on e-mail and Web outages didn't find any results. It could be the issues were too localized to be news, or we have set such a low standard that nobody even finds such failures, whether from Comcast or AT&T or other providers, to be newsworthy.

The Internet has become such a lifeline for communication for work, friends, family and news that to cut it off or slow down access would have dramatic economic and social impact. It drives me completely batty when there are any delays at all. So while we may all murmur about how real-world traffic will be impacted by last night's truck explosion in the East Bay, and discuss alternatives, here in the Web world, we're not that much better prepared. This network is not redundant, and a single accident, intentional or otherwise, could leave us in the dark. I had a taste of that this evening, and that was enough.

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