This story appeared on Network World Fusion at

'Net Insider:           

When comprehension fails


By Scott Bradner

Network World, 09/24/01


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


The Internet performed quite well and the phone network less well. There was a spike in Internet traffic 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, D.C., 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.


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 news source 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 one-and-a-half hours late.


The phone network did not fare so well. Soon after the first crash, lines all over the East Coast overloaded, and it became impossible to even get a dial tone in some places. E-mail and instant messaging were the only reliable ways to communicate, but they only worked for people with non-dialup access because the phone network overload prevented people from accessing their service providers.


Harvard President Lawrence Summers said during a multifaith vigil in Harvard Yard that, "When comprehension fails, we must turn to each other." This is what I have been doing this past week. I have spent a lot of time hugging the one I love and being thankful none of my friends or colleagues were directly affected. I pray that is also the case with you.


Disclaimer: I do not speak for the university, but based on what I've seen these past few days, I'm sure the prayers are shared.