Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Australian Internet Outage Blamed on Hot Weather

Thousands of Internet users in Australia were without Internet access for up to 6½ hours after extreme heat forced the country's second-largest ISP to shut down its Perth servers.  The outage occurred on January 5 (2015), with external temperatures at the time in excess of 44°C.

According to chief technology officer Mark Dioguardi, the iiNet data centre in Perth began experiencing problems with their primary cooling system, forcing them to switch to a secondary system to keep servers cool.  When that system also failed, the decision was made to shut down some of the servers as a precautionary measure.  Internet access and IT services were disrupted for about 2% of iiNet's total customer base.  Needless to say, they were not happy.

Frustrated customers took to social media to make their thoughts known however, many seem resigned to the fact that unusual occurrences such as this happen in Australia regularly.  It seems to be part of living there.  We assume iiNet customers are keeping their fingers crossed that the company will make the necessary improvements to its infrastructure to prevent future shutdowns.

Back here in the UK, the same type of scenario is unlikely to happen… For starters, we rarely see temperatures as high as they were in Perth however, we also have the added benefit of infrastructure that has been developed with built-in safeguards to protect against our reliably unpredictable weather.

Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) secretary general Nicolas Lansman told the BBC, “Data centres and networks are designed with resilience in mind.  Whilst we wouldn't expect 44 degrees in the UK, ISPs and data centre operators are very much prepared for the unpredictable British weather.”

Greatest Challenge Is Being Prepared

The data centre industry faces many challenges every single day.  None of those challenges is as difficult as the challenge of being prepared for any potential service-interrupting events.  Seriously dangerous weather notwithstanding, extreme heat and cold are things that have to be planned for in the early stages of infrastructure design.  What happened in Perth is understandable, given the nature of Australia's summertime heat, but you can bet iiNet will be working overtime to make sure it never happens again.

Today's Internet user is an individual with very little patience.  Among young people especially, there is little experience with having to wait for days or weeks in order to communicate outside of the local area.  This lack of experience makes 6.5 hours without Internet access seem an eternity to younger consumers who have no idea what life was like prior to the Internet age.  As for businesses, a 6.5 hour outage has become simply unacceptable as we rely so heavily on internet access these days. 

This is a perfect example of how competing for the modern Internet user is all about uptime and reliability and how these factors are driving the development of Internet technology well beyond what we could have envisioned even just a decade ago.   The challenges we now face are keeping the data centre industry on its toes as we all seek better, faster and more reliable services.

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