The weakest link

Undersea cables can be fixed, but can the damage to the Middle East's growing outsourcing and hosting industries be repaired?

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By  Mark Sutton Published  February 3, 2008

Last week's undersea cable disasters and the resulting disruptions to internet and voice services spell out a harsh warning for the future development of all types of e-business in the region.

While accidents will happen with marine cables, and last week's events seemed to be an unfortunate combination of events, the resulting chaos shows just how vulnerable the connections for this part of the world are. Put simply, there is just not enough cable running into the Middle East.

A quick look at maps of the global cable networks shows the contrast between the massive concentrations of lines serving North America and the handful of lines running through the region.

While Internet technology can handle a fair amount of disruption to connections, the current set up of a few cables, with landing points concentrated close together and with most of the cables running alongside busy shipping routes was a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately repairs to the cables should be quicker than usual, as fully stocked repair ships were on hand, but the damage to the region's outsourcing and hosting services industry has already been done. The outages made global headlines - and along with those headlines almost anywhere you looked were a lot of frankly racist comments attacking India's outsourcing industry. While ‘offshoring' is an emotive issue, India's outsourcing industry has been one of the great commercial success of the last five years. If India attracts this much negative publicity over an outage, what hope does Egypt - which has long wanted to get into the outsourcing market - have of gaining global confidence for its offerings?

Many of the hosting companies in the region are sensibly starting local with their services, but ‘near-shoring' is only half of the story. Headlines suggesting that most of the region was subjected to a virtual Internet blackout will mean that local hosting companies will struggle to convince global customers that they are able to offer the level of service they need. Even Middle East-based customers that are expanding locally aren't likely to support homegrown operations if they know that its will just take one clumsy ship's captain to shut down their applications and services. As for the much trumpeted new wave of Software as a Service - well, would you have wanted your CRM or ERP to have been hosted offsite last Thursday?

It's not just the hosting industry that needs more capacity either - the numerous smart cities and global hubs that are supposed to be building up in the region will all require more bandwidth for voice and data connection on a global scale.

Co-incidentally, Telecom Egypt chose last week to announce a new cable between Egypt and France, but the situation requires more than a few operators putting in capacity piecemeal. International cable networks require international co-operation, and if the Middle East, and the near neighbours, need to take a serious look at extending capacity through any available means, or else the region will continue to be the Internet's weakest link.

Has your business been affected by the service outages? Contact me mark.sutton@itp.com and let me know

3601 days ago
N.A. Mirza

February 7, 2008 Sir: Berserk. Yes, this is what the recent net blackout due to undersea intercontinental cable cuts on Jan 30 led to and resulted in to ponder over remedial steps to contain its reoccurrence in the future. Dependence on Net is indeed dangerous and your editorial on February 4, 2008 rightly quotes one analyst that "the risk of accidental cuts is much much greater than the risk of deliberate cuts." Just a year ago, in December 2006 a massive quake broke nine submarine cables and cut off Southeast Asia's links with the world. Disruption in the internet link brought business and commercial activities came to a virtual halt and it took 49 days to repair the cables then. And in the present case bad weather prevents the repairs ship to reach the spot. The disruption affected internet access in the Gulf region and south Asia, and forcing service providers to re-route traffic. But, according to InternetTraffic.com, though Iran has been completely cut off from the Internet, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's blog could still be accessed. And most notably, the outage did not affect Israel and Iraq. Who benefits from such net black outs is no mystery. And can any one ponder over the damages to the outsourcing industry in South Asia and the Middle East? N. A. Mirza Jeddah

3605 days ago
Skand Bhargava

My comment may seem to be off topic, but I do see such issues related to lack of true commitment to quality and service by those who have sufficiently deep pockets. It's a mindset that results in more than our share of 'accidents' in our region. Recently we installed an access control system for a well known company that provides ISO 9000 certification. To begin with when we were told 'site is ready' for installtion, there was no power or computer nearby, though our quotation had clearly stated minimum requirements from client's side. It shows that they did not even bother to read our quotation properly, while they themselves preach proper documentation. Why do such things happen? I feel this is because (I may sound like racist, though I am myself an Asian), we just do not 'get it'. An ISO 9000 certification is not really to maintain quality, it is to paint the back-side of your vans. An MBA degree is not to gain insight into business management - it's solely a stamp on your CV to get better jobs. Sure, an MBA degree should improve your market value but one mustn't 'just pass' through the credits for the sake of passing. It should be done to seek knowledge. Therefore when the general outlook of populeation is like this, it is but natural that future planning, contigency plans, disaster recovery and issues that do not give you immediate returns, take a back seat. And when that happens, no wonder such accidents keep occurring in our part of the world in frequent intervals. Skand Bhargava http://www.softoolsme.com TAS2000 - Time & Attendance System

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