Window on WANs

Mar 16 2011   12:31PM GMT

When disaster strikes, block YouTube across the WAN?

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati Profile: Jessica Scarpati

The U.S. military has temporarily blocked access to 13 popular streaming-media websites — including YouTube, Pandora, ESPN, Amazon — across its entire .mil WAN in an attempt to free up bandwidth for recovery operations in Japan, CNN reported this morning.

This comes after reports that many of Asia’s telecom operators are scrambling to repair undersea cables that were damaged by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last week. However, it’s unclear from CNN’s report whether the military blacklisted these sites as a preemptive measure or if bandwidth (particularly for its U.S. Pacific Command, which requested the ban) was directly affected by service disruptions.

The news sparked some suspicions that the bans were related to security concerns or productivity, but notably absent from the list of blacklisted sites is the king of time-wasters — Facebook.

Aside from some of the Flash-heavy games, such as Farmville (which I’m guessing the Department of Defense already has some means in place to block), Facebook isn’t a comparatively huge bandwidth hog. That seems to corroborate the military’s claims that their chief concern is making sure there’s enough bandwidth across their network for critical applications.

However, a small debate appeared in the reader comments below CNN’s story: One reader suggests that blocking the sites is unnecessary because the same goal could be achieved by using quality of service (QoS) to prioritize critical applications and websites above the ones currently banned. Another reader countered that implementing those policies would be too time-consuming under emergency circumstances.

That counterpoint struck me as interesting, considering how much we hear from vendors such as Ipanema (and to some extent, Riverbed)  about automation, ease of configuration and dynamic QoS.  It sounds good in theory, but I guess when you are in the midst of a major environmental, humanitarian and nuclear crisis, do you really want to risk spending too much time fiddling with configurations to throttle Internet radio?

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