Animation: Hurricane Sandy Wipes Out 10 Percent of New York’s Internet

By Robert MacMillan


Hurricane Sandy has been a nightmare. It destroyed homes, knocked out power, flooded the New York City Subway, and wiped out about a quarter of the cellphone towers between Virginia and Massachusetts. And now we know that it also cut off about 10 percent of the computer networks in Manhattan.

That’s according to Renesys, an internet monitoring company that has also tracked internet outages in Egypt and Syria.

New York is one of the most wired places on the planet, so wiping out 10 percent of Manhattan is the equivalent of taking a country like Austria off of the internet map.

Networks went down when the local utility company, Con Edison, cut power Monday night to protect equipment from the storm surge brought on by Sandy. That knocked many of the networks offline, including those hosted at Datagram, a popular data center in lower Manhattan. Others managed to stay online for much of the past three days, but for some, it was a very rough time.

“The 90 percent that survive are in data centers, running on generator power supplied by engineers who do not sleep much,” Renesys chief technology officer James Cowie wrote on a company blog.

We spoke with one of those companies running on backup generators, Peer 1 Hosting, which formed a bucket brigade to haul diesel fuel up 17 flights of stairs to its data center when basement fuel pumps got flooded and failed.

Peer 1 warned customers it was going to have to turn off its data center when reserve fuel ran out, but it tried to keep things going as long as possible. When customers showed up Tuesday and saw five staffers trying to haul 50 gallons of diesel fuel per hour up 17 flights of stairs, they decided to help out.

“Their solution is their livelihood. So they wanted to pitch in and help and keep it up as much as possible,” says Ryan Murphey, vice president of data center operations at Peer 1.

One of those customers, Squarespace, has been describing its Sisyphean efforts to help keep Peer 1′s generators running on this blog.

It looks like the battle is drawing to a close though. Con Edison says it should restore power to all of Manhattan by Friday or Saturday.

You can watch the East Coast outages here: