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The Computer Corner

COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

 

The Connectivity Blame Game

Something that happens more often than people like is when they are attempting to browse to a website and receive that dreaded “this page cannot be displayed” message. Clients invariably ask me, “What happened?”

Sometimes the answer to that question is obvious, but more often than not the question goes unanswered for the simple reason that investigating to find the answer requires time and resources that nobody is willing to pay for. The causes of connection problems are many and varied. Most of the time these outages are intermittent, and often they self-correct. Almost all of these incidents go uninvestigated, so most of the time we never know the answer to the “what happened?” question.

This was absolutely not the case earlier this year when many Internet users received the “this page cannot be displayed” message while trying to access the popular YouTube web site. This outage was widespread and hit a website that produced advertising revenues of over nine billion dollars last year. The corporate management at Alphabet/Google, parent company of YouTube, immediately realized it had begun hemorrhaging cash at the rate of 25 million dollars a day, so management did not simply ask, “What happened?” Google management certainly ordered: “find the problem!”

In Google offices and data centers located in 50 countries, an army of network engineers, security specialists, and forensic investigators was mobilized to find the problem and fix it. Thanks to Google’s willingness to devote the necessary financial resources to investigate this outage, now we know what caused the problem and why.

On Friday, February 22, 2008, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority ordered all of its nation’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to black out a certain YouTube video the government censors did not want anyone in Pakistan to see. Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd. (PTCL), Pakistan’s largest Internet provider, responded to the government order by deliberately putting a bogus route for all YouTube IP addresses into its own routers so that nobody inside Pakistan would be able to reach YouTube. Through a previously-unappreciated glitch in the way updated web addresses are shared between ISPs, Pakistan’s “new” address for YouTube.com got propagated globally, after which most of the world was also blocked from reaching YouTube.

Under pressure of losing a million dollars an hour in advertising revenue, Google threw its considerable resources into finding the answer to that question “What happened?” Two hours later the problem was well on the way to being fixed.

One thing I have stressed over and over again is not to be so quick to blame connection problems on your local Internet Service Provider such as Megacable or Telmex. Many times a problem can be halfway around the world, and there is nothing your local ISP can do about it.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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