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Lessons from Sandy: Building Networks and Cyber-Infrastructure to Survive Climate Change

Bill St. Arnaud

Hurricane Sandy has been a badly needed wake up call for the Internet community as to the threat of climate change.

Although most people have forgotten, Sandy is the second hurricane to hit New York in as many years with Irene last August and a third tropical depression headed to New York at the time of this writing. Two, supposedly once in a hundred year storms, within such a short time frame should even make the most die-hard denialist that something's afoot.

Although the networks and data centers in New York and New Jersey survived relatively unscathed, with only a handful suffering significant outages, most of the data centers and network facilities in and around New York had to be powered by diesel backup generators for several days. Fortunately none of the nearby refineries were seriously affected by the storm so fuel deliveries for the generators were not seriously delayed. It is expected that some data centers, especially in lower Manhattan may have to be powered by their diesel generators for sometime as it will take the electrical utility days if not weeks to replace much of the flooded electrical infrastructure. But imagine the consequences if those refineries were also seriously damaged and there was no fuel to power the backup generators for the data centers and networks.

Flooding from storms like Sandy, and droughts, are forecast to increase significantly in the coming decade. As Jim Hansen, the famous NASA climate scientist has pointed out, simple statistics show that the probability of severe weather is going to increase exponentially with increasing global temperatures.

Unfortunately most research and development efforts with respect to the Internet, or any other aspect of climate change, are still focused on energy efficiency or measuring energy consumption. People still don't realize that we have already lost the battle to prevent the planet from getting warmer. We now need to focus on how we will survive climate change.

Hurricane Sandy has shown us the consequences of severe weather as a result of climate change. Energy efficiency, or measuring energy consumption is irrelevant if you are sitting in the dark without power. By now most of us have seen the pictures of citizens of New York scrambling to find sites where they can re-charge their cell phones, or struggling to find a cell phone signal.

As I have written many times in the past, the Internet and cyber-infrastructure are going to be critical for society to survive future severe weather patterns. Rather than focusing on energy efficiency, in the vain and forlorn hope that making the Internet more energy efficient will somehow change the direction we are headed, we need to focus on how to build an Internet and cyber-infrastructure eco-system that can survive climate change. Solar powered Wifi sites, open access wifi, ad hoc wireless networks, solar powered optical networks, building highly distributed clouds with renewable power (and low cost) computational devices like the Raspberry Pi built on the Greenstar network architecture are examples of such approaches.

By Bill St. Arnaud , Green IT Networking Consultant

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Networks, Wireless


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