IT industry reels from shock of U.S. attack

As the world comes to grips with the sudden and savage attack on the United States this morning many in the IT World community were deeply affected as well.

NetWorld+Interop closed the show floor early today in response to the World Trade Center tragedy and other acts of terrorism Tuesday.

Show organizers say there was no threat to the show itself, but exhibitors and attendees were distracted from the show, calling family and loved ones. The show will reopen as scheduled tomorrow. In addition to closing the show floor, show organizers have cancelled keynote speeches.

After news of the attacks hit the air Tuesday morning, the show floor was sparsely attended. For a building containing thousands of people, it was remarkably quiet.

A visibly shaken Valerie Williamson, brand president of Interop Inc., took the stage this morning at the Networld+Interop convention to announce that two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and that the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., was on fire. The apparent terrorist attacks stunned the crowd of conventioneers.

“I just thought I should tell you all about this tragedy,” she said, taking the microphone just after Avaya Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Donald Peterson had just finished a 45-minute speech discussing the business environment for network equipment.

Dozens of people began leaving the convention hall, cell phones in hand, to get more news, reassure family, and to check the status of people they know in New York. What President George W. Bush deemed an apparent act of terrorism in the moments immediately after the crash will undoubtedly overshadow the remaining three days of the networking convention, as well as everything else.

“It hits so close to home,” said Jeoffrey Varner, a sales manager at Pumpkin Networks Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. “On a Tuesday morning, you know (the travel) is business related.”

Many of the conventioneers were evaluating their travel plans, having left New York, Boston or Los Angeles only hours before the attacks. At least one of the airplanes was confirmed to have been highjacked enroute from Boston to Los Angeles. With airports shut down, it wasn’t immediately clear if executives planning to travel to Atlanta for the remainder of the convention would be able to make it, or if airport restrictions will make it difficult to return home.

The television sets around the convention centre typically are tuned to business channels or to in-house programming during events like Networld+Interop. And most of the time, they are routinely ignored by passers-by more interested in attending the next break-out session on networking or making their way to the convention floor.

Today the televisions were turned to CNN or MSNBC, and crowds one hundred deep gather around to glean more news about what happened.

In one of the great ironic twists of the networking convention, the throngs of networking specialists immediately tried to log on to the Internet for news or to call home on their phones and were often rebuffed by congested Internet traffic to the popular sites and crashing phone networks at home.

“We’re exhibiting, and all of a sudden your priorities change to how is my family,” said Bobby Hall, a channel accounts manager for Avaya.

People huddled together trading hometown news, travel plans and speculation. Police following the crash locked up CNN Center, across the street from the convention hall. Several people among the crowd wondered if they were safer close to the big news agency or if they were standing next to another target.

Before the announcement of the crash, Avaya’s Peterson had been talking about the power of disruption on the networking market. Disruption, indeed.

Hall was one of the ones who left the auditorium after hearing the news, more interested in finding out about family in New York than watching the demonstration by his fellow company woman Karyn Mashima, vice-president of global strategy and technology at Avaya. The crowd murmured its approval of his priorities.

Stunned show-goers could only shake their heads in amazement or disgust; some seemed on the verge of tears.

“My heart and prayers go out to the families and loved ones,” said one attendee. “May God bring them peace that only he can give.”

Another said he doubted the United States could ever really prevent another such calamity. “The only way to prevent something like this is to lock down the entire country and have everyone lose their freedom and that’s not going to happen.”

Many attendees used their own or borrowed cell phones to make calls.

With airports shut down, the question of the day is: “When and how will I get out of Atlanta?”

In a show of sympathy for the tragedy some operators of services that let users send anonymous e-mail have begun to shut them down following the airline crashes in New York and Washington.

“I’m not concerned that the remailer network is, was, or will be used by the actual terrorists,” the operator of one remailer wrote this morning on a remailer mailing list, as relayed by the Politech mailing list. “What concerns me is the assholes who will inevitably send bogus threats, tips, and other noise to various news groups, federal offices, and officials.”

“Randseed’s been taken offline, as a precautionary measure,” wrote another. “All mail currently destined for randseed will be bounced.”

Meanwhile, Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.has confirmed that one of the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy is co-founder and chief technology officer of Internet communication company Daniel C. Lewin.

Lewin died Tuesday aboard one of the American Airlines flights that crashed as part of an apparent terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York just one of what will likely be thousands of victims.

American Airlines confirmed that Lewin was a passenger on American flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, according to a statement from Akamai. Flight 11, which left Boston at 7:59 a.m. EST, and was one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and caused the destruction of the 110-story towers. The flight had 81 passengers and 11 crew on board.

“Danny was a wonderful human being,” said George H. Conrades, chairman and chief executive officer of Akamai, in a statement. “He will be deeply missed by his many friends at Akamai. Our thoughts and prayers are with Danny’s family, friends and colleagues during this time of national tragedy and personal loss.”

Akamai, provides content delivery service for leading Web technology firms. Geographically dispersed Akamai servers deliver advertisements, video, and other high-bandwidth content for the company’s clients.

Lewin was 31 years old and is survived by his wife and two sons, Akamai said.

– With files from Tim Greene, Marlo Matoska and Adam Gaffin of Network World Fusion and Matt Berger of IDG News Service.