Storm knocks down some web sites, but most stay online

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 30, 2012 9:27 PM
Storm knocks down some web sites, but most stay online

By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Despite outages at a few well-known web sites and ripple effects that occasionally slowed communications around the country, the Internet came through the massive storm that swamped New York and New Jersey with relatively minor problems.

Built for resiliency and buttressed by the adoption of cloud computing, the Internet functioned largely as it was supposed to, industry experts said, routing around major disruptions in one of its central network locations, New York City.

"You don't hear about big content providers going offline anymore," said Jeffrey Young, a spokesman for major delivery network Akamai Technologies Inc, which has servers spread among some 1,100 communications set-ups. "We can route around issues that are occurring."

New York has two major exchange centers where U.S. backbone telecommunication providers meet data from undersea cables, said Doug Madory, senior analyst at Renesys Corp, which monitors Internet response times. A number of network addresses were inaccessible on Tuesday afternoon, including many in the New York area, and connection times for others were slower than normal, he said, but the disruptions were limited.

Still, a handful of popular web sites, including Google's YouTube, AOL Inc's Huffington Post, and the network of sites owned by Gawker Media, did experience outages.

Social news site BuzzFeed and News Corp's financial site MarketWatch were also reduced to bare-bones versions as they regrouped on Tuesday.

At least some of the problems were the direct result of data centers losing power and being unable to fuel their own generators because of flooding.

Most web sites use commercial data centers rather than running their own computer servers, in part to ensure security and stability in emergencies. Many of those data centers offer back-up services elsewhere.

But New York data centers, including Internap and Datagram, went down due to the power and flooding problems. BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and Gawker all crashed because of Datagram.

"How dumb to locate datacenter in a flood zone. And how dumb to host Gawker servers there," Gawker founder Nick Denton wrote on Twitter. The company moved to blog platform Tumblr for a while, one of a number of creative workarounds made easier by more advanced web offerings. BuzzFeed moved everything onto Akamai and Amazon's web services arm.

An AOL spokeswoman said after Huffington Post's main data center went under that it had shifted to a backup data system in Newark. That worked until all three telecom firms serving that location went down.

"At approximately 3:30 a.m., network connectivity failed at the backup datacenter when all three of its providers each separately failed," said AOL's Erin Kurtz.

Huffington Post switched to a skeletal blog platform until it recovered at eight hours later.

Dow Jones and Datagram could not be reached immediately for comment. YouTube refused to say why it became unavailable, but Google's New York headquarters was closed by the storm. The company said the video site was available, if slow, for most users by Tuesday evening.

Many large and mid-sized companies adopted disaster planning for data after the September 11, 2001, attacks, making sure to have duplicates of core data in different locations. Smaller firms have taken the same route by moving to cloud computing, which generally spreads data across multiple facilities.

"The whole point of the cloud is that companies are insulated from outages really of any sort, absent a giant nuclear disaster," said Bernard Golden, vice president at enStratus Networks, a cloud software company. "You want your provider to have facilities in disparate-enough locations so that even if you have problems in a particular region, your service is still available."

(Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic and Alistair Barr in SAN FRANCISCO and Jennifer Saba in NEW YORK; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Paul Tait)