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Sun 24 Feb 2008 11:00 AM

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All cut up

The recent cuts of three, or maybe even four, internet cables in the Middle East sparked anger, frustration, disbelief and conspiracy theories of varying degrees of implausibility.

The recent cuts of three, or maybe even four, internet cables in the Middle East sparked anger, frustration, disbelief and conspiracy theories of varying degrees of implausibility. The loss or slowdown of the internet in various places caused big business headaches, was an irritant to individual users and even resulted in service provider Batelco issuing compensation to its customers.

None of these reactions are ridiculous (except perhaps some of the more ludicrous conspiracy theories) but all of them were a tad overplayed. It did rather stretch the concept of coincidence that so many cables, in different locations, should be simultaneously accidentally out, but it was an over-reaction to the absence or slowdown of a service that nobody has actually had for that long.

What was really shown up by the cuts was just how true it is that the internet is now the third utility. After power and water, the thing no-one seems to be able to live without is connectivity. And just like when there's a power cut or a water shortage - chaos ensues.

Power and water are things that a lot of countries in the world now take for granted and those same countries are beginning to feel the same way about the internet. But of course, we're all missing the point. Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1821 and by the end of the 19th century electrical engineering was turning electricity from scientific experiment into everyday tool. The internet, on the other hand, wasn't even around until the 1970s.

The market is what's pushing the internet to do in less than 40 years what it has taken electricity over a hundred years to do - connect throughout the world - and electricity hasn't even gotten everywhere yet and we still get power cuts. Or to put it another way, electricity became common in Dubai in the 1960s - the internet followed in the early 90s. But because the market is pushing the internet so hard, the term "ubiquitous" is often to be seen close to the term "internet", along with "almost" and "nearly".

Because of this pervasive uptake, e-mail and everything else the internet can provide has become a staple part of the modern enterprise. So, of course enterprises worry about downtime, and it is a valid concern, but it's hard to believe that most companies can't survive a little of it. We often hear that things are different now because enterprises are global. That's another claim that could use a little perspective.

First and without the need for elaboration - time zones. Secondly, holidays (whether religious, historical or governmental) are different all over the world. Thirdly, a large proportion of the world doesn't even share the same working week as the rest. To cite globalisation as an added reason why companies can't cope with the lack of an internet connection is somewhat blinkered, to say the least.

While researching the upcoming feature for March's issue of ACN on web-based software for the enterprise, something that came up as an obstacle to adopting SAAS was connectivity issues. How could an enterprise rely on a web-based CRM or ERP if it had to worry about its internet connection? Well, quite simply, if business really does fall apart when the internet is offline, as many would currently claim, then it's going to do just that whether the enterprise adopts SAAS or not. And for most enterprises, downtime refers to the times their server or a particular application crashes - not the times they are offline.

Despite appearances, the recent cable problems were not a cause for hair-pulling and hand-wringing, quite the opposite in fact, they should have given everyone a glimpse of the future - when the internet is (finally) ubiquitous and we all take the very occasional internet cut in our stride.

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