title: "When comprehension fails"


by: Scott Bradner


Due to publication deadlines I'm writing this column a few days after the horrific events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and it is very hard to concentrate. While this is not the place to write about my feeling of the events themselves I can not ignore them.  And it is clearly not the time to write about copyright, ATM or many of the other things I normally address. It is hard to figure out what to write about  -- about the only thing I can think of to write about that may be germane and appropriate for this publication is how the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure dealt with the events.


The Internet did quite well and the phone network less well.  There was a spike in Internet traffic on Tuesday morning but it was well within the ability of most ISPs to handle so there were few performance problems.  The traffic level then dropped to below normal daily levels. The New York City and Washington DC areas, along with the San Francisco area make up the three biggest sources of Internet traffic.  Major disruptions in two of them coupled with the impact on the general workforce would be expected to reduce demand.  In addition, almost no ISPs had significant outages.  While the Internet transport infrastructure handled the load well Internet-based servers did not do as well.


Many Internet news sites were quickly overwhelmed and some had to follow their contingency plans to reduce or eliminate graphics on their web sites to make response times at all reasonable.  The Internet was the major source of news of the events for millions of people while the major TV networks seemed to revel in replaying endlessly scenes of slow motion  death.  Nanog, the major mailing list for network operators had so much traffic that it was running as much as 1 and a half hours late.


The phone network did not fair so well.  Soon after the first crash lines all over the east coast overloaded and it became impossible to even get dialtone in some places.  Email and instant messaging were the only reliable ways to communicate but they only worked for people with non-dialup access since the phone network overload prevented people accessing their service providers.


Harvard's President Lawrence H. Summers said during a multi-faith vigil in Harvard yard "When comprehension fails, we must turn to each other."  This is what I have been doing this last week.  I have spent a lot of time hugging the one I love and being thankful that none of my friends or colleagues were directly impacted.  I prey that is the case with you also.


disclaimer:  I do not speak for the University but based on what I've seen this past few days I'm sure the prayers are shared.