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Sun 3 Feb 2008 03:49 PM

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The weakest link

Undersea cables can be fixed, but can the damage to the Middle East's growing outsourcing and hosting industries be repaired?

Last week's undersea cable disasters and the resulting disruptions to internet and voice services spell out a harsh warning for the future development of all types of e-business in the region.

While accidents will happen with marine cables, and last week's events seemed to be an unfortunate combination of events, the resulting chaos shows just how vulnerable the connections for this part of the world are. Put simply, there is just not enough cable running into the Middle East.

A quick look at maps of the global cable networks shows the contrast between the massive concentrations of lines serving North America and the handful of lines running through the region.

While Internet technology can handle a fair amount of disruption to connections, the current set up of a few cables, with landing points concentrated close together and with most of the cables running alongside busy shipping routes was a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately repairs to the cables should be quicker than usual, as fully stocked repair ships were on hand, but the damage to the region's outsourcing and hosting services industry has already been done. The outages made global headlines - and along with those headlines almost anywhere you looked were a lot of frankly racist comments attacking India's outsourcing industry. While ‘offshoring' is an emotive issue, India's outsourcing industry has been one of the great commercial success of the last five years. If India attracts this much negative publicity over an outage, what hope does Egypt - which has long wanted to get into the outsourcing market - have of gaining global confidence for its offerings?

Many of the hosting companies in the region are sensibly starting local with their services, but ‘near-shoring' is only half of the story. Headlines suggesting that most of the region was subjected to a virtual Internet blackout will mean that local hosting companies will struggle to convince global customers that they are able to offer the level of service they need. Even Middle East-based customers that are expanding locally aren't likely to support homegrown operations if they know that its will just take one clumsy ship's captain to shut down their applications and services. As for the much trumpeted new wave of Software as a Service - well, would you have wanted your CRM or ERP to have been hosted offsite last Thursday?

It's not just the hosting industry that needs more capacity either - the numerous smart cities and global hubs that are supposed to be building up in the region will all require more bandwidth for voice and data connection on a global scale.

Co-incidentally, Telecom Egypt chose last week to announce a new cable between Egypt and France, but the situation requires more than a few operators putting in capacity piecemeal. International cable networks require international co-operation, and if the Middle East, and the near neighbours, need to take a serious look at extending capacity through any available means, or else the region will continue to be the Internet's weakest link.

Has your business been affected by the service outages? Contact me mark.sutton@itp.com and let me know

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