A ‘catastrophic failure’ has struck the Southern Cross Cable, claims Labour ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran.
The 50% Telecom-owned company, which operates New Zealand's only major broadband link with the outside world, confirmed the problem, but said it only affected 10% of its capacity. The Labour MP was being misleading and inaccurate, the company says.
“Labour has learnt that a ‘catastrophic failure’ at Southern Cross’s Alexandria [New South Wales] landing station occurred this morning due to an unauthorised and un-notified software change to their wavelength switching platform, which blew up," Ms Curran says
The Dunedin South MP told NBR her source was a network operator, from outside New Zealand, and forwarded part of an email concerning the incident which calls Southern Cross' lack of an alert "unacceptable".
The incident, although apparently minor, highlights that price competition isn't the only issue in the second-cable debate.
Kordia NZ/Orcon boss: highlights vulnerability
Kordia NZ CEO Scott Bartlett confirmed the outage, telling NBR "It lasted approximately one hour and 10 minutes. Unprotected capacity dropped between New Zealand and Australia and Australia and the USA – very serious. Orcon not affected as we have capacity going in both directions. The larger impact would have been on Australia, not NZ."
He added, "I have been preaching that we need another cable system for this country for a long time. Technology fails, its a matter of when and by how much, not if."
Snap boss: not a catastrophe
Snap CEO Mark Petrie, who happened to be at Southern Cross' Alexandria Data Centre this afternoon, told NBR the cable operator had three fibre pairs crossing the Tasman, going into three different bits of equipment. On pair failed. Snap noticed no difference in performance.
Switched fibres, three pairs into three bits of equipment, just one bit of equipment, no loss of service to Australia to not redundancy
"Another cable an excellent idea from a commercial point of view and more redundancy would be better," Mr Petrie said.
But in technical terms, his company suffered no problem today.
Earlier, CallPlus chairman Malcolm Dick recalled a major Southern Cross outage in 2001 - and highlighted the fact that although the cable operator offers "protected" capacity, thanks to its twin cable design, not ever customer shells out extra money to take advantage of this redundancy.
The government supported start-up Pacific Fibre with a major contract to buy bandwidth for the Crown-owned Reannz network. But the cable's backers argued the Crown could have done more, including making it mandatory for UFB companies to buy international bandwidth from more than one provider, or encouraging the $20 billion Super Fund to invest (the fund called the cable too risky).
Pacific Fibre co-founder Rod Drury recently began a push for a public-private partnership model to fund an international cable, formally putting the idea to ICT Minister Amy Adams.
Major outage in 2001
In August, CallPlus chairman Malcolm Dick related to NBR a major outage on the Southern Cross Cable in 2001.
A freak series of events saw both cables in the Southern Cross Network's twin-cable design taken out of action - one down for routine maintenance, the other sliced by a ship's anchor in Sydney Harbour (where a had hit storm and ships were warned to weigh anchor downwind of the cable. One vessel had two anchors down. A crew member only pulled up one. The other dragged through the cable).
Software used to manage failovers failed.
"This caused a total outage, and Southern Cross staff had to manually route the working segments together, creating a 14-hour outage," Mr Dick said.
Some customers were left without service for 12 hours, others for up to 20 hours.
"Fortunately at that time it was still the dial-up era and there was not much traffic on it, so it attracted little press," Mr Dick told NBR.
The incident also highlighted that while Southern Cross offers fully redundant or "protected" service, not all telco and ISP customers stump up the extra cost required to take advantage of it.
Mr Bartlett backed Mr Dick's comments, saying a single cable operator made New Zealand more vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster hitting Auckland, where the Southern Cross Cable lands (at twin points on each coast at Takapuna and Whenuapai). The country was at economic risk.
Southern Cross told NBR the 2001 incident happened at a time when the Hawaii to Oregon segment of the cable was not complete.
It could not happen today with the full, twin-cable design in place (and indeed, while one of the cables might have been taken out this morning, NBR at least noticed no international connection problems).
One cable down, the other overwhelmed?
Snap CEO Mark Petrie accepted the twin cable design meant a total outage was unlikely, but feared the remaining cable could be overwhelmed. He adds that, regardless, two cables are better than one in terms of price competition.
CallPlus' chairman sees threats beyond technical failure.
"The cable runs into and past Suva in Fiji which is now a dictatorship," he told NBR.
"A couple of years ago, Fiji had a dispute with Tonga resulting in the Fijian Navy destroying the lighthouse put up [on disputed Minerva Reef] for safety."
Tonga erected two new lighthouses to guard the reef.
Dick was sailing through Minerva Reef mid-year, and took the photo above of a Tongan naval vessel on patrol.
There are broader tensions.
"The possibility exists that if we annoyed Fiji too much, they have the capability of decommissioning one segment of the cable, leaving New Zealand with a single cable, virtually guaranteeing outages from time to time," Mr Dick said.
RAW DATA: Southern Cross Cable statement
Contrary to a misleading and inaccurate media release from Labour’s Clare Curran, no ‘catastrophic failure’
has occurred on the Southern Cross Cable.
The cable is, a figure of 8 network providing internet services to New Zealand, Australia, Pacific and the US.
In the early hours of this morning a limited outage affecting 10% of our active capacity occurred during our
maintenance window which is a low traffic impacting period.
The outage occurred at one of our Sydney cable stations, Alexandria, and it lasted from 3.17am – 4.28am, Sydney Time, impacting 4 of our customers*.
A problem occurred and the switch was reverted to its original software.
The incident occurred as a part of authorised work taking place to expand capacity on the Southern Cross network.
NBR understands one of the customers was Southern Cross wholesaler Vocus, which has previously told NBR it onsells access to the cable to around 25% of the NZ retail ISP market.
On this point Southern Cross replied: "The 4 customers were either ISP or telecom companies. We do not comment on who our customers are. It is hard to determine the NZ impact but [it] was 10% of our total traffic."