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Hurricane Sandy Delivers Tricks, No Treats, to Tech Infrastructure

Superstorm Sandy and last year's nor'easter turned Halloween into fright nights for technology users. This year's storm downed 25% of cell towers on the East Coast, flooded data centers and knocked websites offline.

For the second year in a row, immense forces of nature made Halloween a real scare for those who rely on our technology infrastructure for work and play. Like a horror movie sequel, Sandy raged over major population centers almost a year to the day that a massive snowstorm buried the mid-Atlantic and the East Coast in an nor'easter some dubbed "Snowtober."

Perhaps the most significant tech infrastructure damage Sandy caused was to the cellular infrastructure. The storm knocked out fully one quarter of the cell-phone towers on the East Coast, according to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski.

A small number of call centers and cell-network facilities were taken offline due to flooding or loss of power, Genachowski said during a conference call on Oct. 31. Most of the problems exist at actual cell-phone towers damaged by flooding, falling trees, wind damage to antennas, and other storm-driven connection interrupters.

As was the case with the snow horror of 2011, damage from this year's storm could extend miserable conditions long after the storm itself disappears. "Our assumption is that communications outages could get worse before they get better, particularly for mobile networks, because of the flooding and loss of power," Genachowski said.

Genachowski encouraged people to deal with the hardship by doing the digital equivalent of huddling to save warmth--saving bandwidth by sharing My-Fi connections and "texting with a friend." Perhaps this means you should type your message onto the screen of your phone and then walk over and show it to the intended recipient rather than hitting Send.

Data centers in the storm's path also took a beating. Several data centers in Manhattan were flooded or taken off the grid by power failures. Power failures at the Datagram data center in Manhattan took down a host of high-profile sites as well, including BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and Gawker.

Gawker shifted to the Tumblr platform temporarily; Huffington Post switched to a backup data center in Newark until the three telcos connecting the backup center also went down, according to Reuters.

Within hours of Sandy's arrival in New York, the basement of Datagram's building flooded to within a few feet of the lobby, submerging the building's electrical systems as well as the sump pumps and fuel-tank pumps that might have helped clear the water out, according to a statement on Datagram's site.

As of 10:51 a.m. on Wednesday the 31st, crews from ConEdison were swarming the sidewalks and buildings around Datagram's offices, according to one update, but there was no word on when the utility would allow any building in the area to turn its power back on.

Next Page:The Internet Survives

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