Diesel Shortage Could Cripple Net Access

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-09-12

Most critical network hubs in lower Manhattan switched over to diesel generators when a power outage began Tuesday night. Internet access and some telephone communications may further deteriorate in the metropolitan New York area unless restrictions on the delivery of diesel fuel are lifted.

Electricity and gas were disconnected to prevent fire and explosions in parts of the still-smoldering disaster zone created when terrorists flew widebody jets laden with fuel into the twin World Trade Center towers.

Though fuel trucks are formally banned from entering the city, some exchange operators were able to make the case for exceptions to authorities, and should be able to keep their collocations running.

Focal Communications switch was out from 8 p.m. Tuesday until about 3 a.m. today. "We currently have 24 hours worth of fuel and will be receiving another fuel delivery sometime today," spokesman Matt Batt said.

Focal operates a network exchange at 32 Old Slip in New York. Its tenants include NaviPath, a provider of dial-up access for large users, including EarthLink and AOL. Should companies like NaviPath start losing connectivity, thousands of users would have trouble dialing into the Internet, and Net access proved a communications lifeline for people in the affected areas.

Con Edison has not indicated when power will be restored. Two more critical network locations, at 60 Hudson St. and at 25 Broadway, are reportedly running on generator power. Like Focals at 32 Old Slip, they have 24 hours to 48 hours worth of fuel. Another critical location, at 111 8th Ave., was evacuated Tuesday, but reportedly has power today.

If more than one of these locations goes dark, the Internet wont stop working, but will experience a significant slowdown. Many Manhattan locations have international fiber installations, acting as traffic hubs between the U.S. and Europe. NYIIX, an exchange hosting several international carriers, is at 25 Broadway. The 8th Ave. location is a major peering point.

"It is highly unlikely that additional fuel can be brought in today, because of the security cordon," said Daniel Golding, network engineering director of Sockeye Networks, a company providing efficient routing to network and enterprise customers. "Many of these colos are south of Canal Street, and some - 25 Broadway - are in the financial district, almost in the shadow of the former World Trade Center. 25 Broad, in particular, is right across from the famous bull statue on Wall Street."

Even if fuel trucks do get into the city, many are concerned that generators wont be able to continue operating because of dust and soot in the air clogging the machines. Experts say these fears are well-founded and hope the operators of network exchanges have a Plan B in case power isnt restored in a couple of days.

"Our experience with diesel generators from the events like the Chicago tunnel flood is that they are great solutions for a week or so, but then you run into maintenance issues," said John Jackson, president of Comdiscos Availability Solutions unit, which specializes in disaster recovery services and has several enterprise customers in the affected area. "After several days, our experience is that our customers start to run into reliability issues."

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