Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. What a week, eh? And it's not over yet, with a few data centers still completely out and many more still on generator power hoping the diesel resupply arrives on schedule. But let's take a step back and think about just why the damage was as bad as it was, and why it wasn't worse too.
Some have publicly wondered why the data centers hit the hardest were even in such vulnerable locations. But really, it's the wrong question. As Verizon's CTO Tony Melone put it, "You have no choice but to concentrate on where the need is."
In other words, there was and always will be infrastructure in vulnerable places because people themselves choose to live and work there. Humans love to live near water and have done so since the dawn of civilization, no matter how many times the water rises up and washes it all away.
And the communications infrastructure we build will never itself be completely invulnerable to it, because invulnerability is both impossible and expensive to attempt. Risks and benefits will be balanced, design tolerances eventually will be exceeded, and blame will be spread. But not much of what we build can be guaranteed to survive a storm surge, regardless.
So Mother Nature will always be able to do damage to the nation's power and communications infrastructure, it's just that this week it managed to one of the major hubs of the internet worldwide nearly head on. The news is all about how much went down, but all things considered isn't it amazing how much still works?
Some in the media have billed it all as a test for the recently consolidated world of telecom and its leaner but possibly less resilient physique. With all the consolidation, whether it be wireless, ILEC, CLEC, or fiber, I suppose it was a natural question.
It could have been better, surely. But actually, I can't imagine the telecommunications infrastructure of ten or twenty years ago would have stood up nearly as well. If this storm had hit back in NYC in 2000, it would have split the internet in half for weeks. This time, if you managed to not lose power and your access line wasn't cut by a tree, then you were still on Skype/Facebook/Twitter/Netflix/YouTube whatever and posting pictures of the storm. So yes, let's be sure to learn from what didn't work.
But let's give some credit where it's due as well. At today's levels of hyperconnectivity, this feels like a communications disaster. But we could all be listening to AM radio on batteries hoping the next delivery of bottled water gets in without causing a riot, (and some actually are of course, just not everyone!) Perspective is everything.