UUNet having network difficulty

If the Internet seemed a little slow April 25, it’s because it was slow in some parts. Network engineers observed problems with WorldCom Inc.’s Internet protocol backbone Thursday morning, as Internet traffic slowed down around the U.S.

A train derailment in Ohio cut two fibre optic cables Thursday morning, forcing Internet traffic to find other routes, said a WorldCom spokeswoman. Repair crews began fixing the cables within hours, and the company expects full restoration of traffic by 6 p.m. EST, she said.

The cut cable caused sporadic traffic problems throughout the day. At least one Internet peering partner with WorldCom reported traffic problems from the Clinton, Miss., long distance carrier.

Sprint Corp. lost connectivity between its Internet backbone network and UUNet’s for about four minutes at noon EST, said Charles Fleckenstein, a Sprint spokesman. There was no direct effect on Sprint’s own network, he said.

Other carriers reported no problems, but network operators reported a significant drop in inbound and outbound traffic around 9 a.m. EST, said Peter Salus, chief knowledge officer at Matrix NetServices Inc., a network monitoring company. Network engineers subscribing to the North American Network Operators’ Group list complained of having trouble peering, or trading Internet traffic, with large carriers, tracing the problem to WorldCom, Salus said.

The Internet routing system can detect network problems and change the path data takes to get from one place to another. As IP packets bunch up along fewer routes, traffic slows down until the system learns the most efficient way to send data. Network operators reported routers resetting border gateway protocols, the instruction set for moving data through the Internet from one part of the network to other parts.

“The problem is that WorldCom is very large, the world’s largest ISP, whatever their stock market price may be,” Salus said. A problem at WorldCom could ripple outward to the millions of people connecting their computers to the company’s network.

“It went on for several hours, which is highly unusual,” he said. “I have a feeling that, as has happened before, one of the engineers at WorldCom did something bad with the software,” he said, referring to border gateway software. “They did this before, and it screwed up the Net for hours.”

Salus said it wouldn’t be fair to single out WorldCom for complaint. “This is a universal problem. The people in their operation centre aren’t able to tell their own customers what the problems are. Communications alleviate a lot of problems. If I know there’s a spill on the interstate, I won’t be so upset if I can’t get home on time.”

With 200 million machines on the Internet, network engineers are not graduating from college at the rate they should to keep up with the growth of the world’s networks, Salus said. “There are tough problems…we don’t have enough people who are good and can solve them. There are 200 million machines on the Net, and maybe a couple of thousand good Net engineers.”