January 2017

Putting the 'world' in the World Wide Web

Walk through the secret hub that houses Tata Communications' transatlantic internet cables and meet the team that helps the world stay connected

Every part of it – every cable, every server – is redundant. The network is capable of withstanding massive failure, a feature of its origins as a military communications system designed to withstand total nuclear war. But that doesn't mean there aren't critical points: data centres and connections that carry staggering amounts of data to serve the worlds of commerce, entertainment, civil society and government.

Tata Communications runs a 710,000km network of subsea and terrestrial cables around the world. The network carries more than 25 percent of global internet routes – over 7,300 petabytes per month. And a significant percentage of that traffic crosses the Atlantic via undersea fibre-optic cables, emerging at an anonymous beach somewhere on the south-west coast of England.The exact location is confidential.

The internet might be difficult to attack, but, with so much of our lives dependent on its proper functioning, there's no reason to be cavalier about its more important parts. The people who work here are proud that their efforts to maintain and optimise the flow of data help our modern world to stay connected. Indeed, they are the people who put the 'world' in the 'world wide web'. Perspective was privileged to meet some of them.

  • A beautiful English beach — concealing the end of a fibre-optic cable whose other end emerges in New Jersey, more than 6,000km away.
  • E-commerce, government and media all rely on cables running beneath a humble steel access plate.
  • Along the path of these cables lies the Puerto Rico Trench, which at its deepest point is almost as deep as Mount Everest is high (it's shy by just 200m).
  • The internet in engineer Ian Petts's hands. "I got into this job almost by accident. But fibre-optic telecoms over the past 20 years has been really stimulating," he says. The World Wide Web was just five years old when he started.
  • The cabling and pipework are colour-coded to assist the engineers.
  • Inside unassuming metal cabinets sit giant routers, directing data to users. Security is paramount – and so is safety. Everything is locked down and all systems are redundant.
  • Nicholas Crane, cable station and data centre engineer, says: "As far as my friends and family are concerned, I work in telecoms. I don't think they are aware that I help to operate and maintain a part of the network that connects them to the internet."
  • Ian Petts, with his head in the cloud. Indeed, cloud computing can only exist with the hard work of these engineers. "It's mindblowing to think I help to connect people around the world to the internet," says Petts. "To know that a small, yet highly professional, team on the south-west coast of England plays such a huge role in the internet is surreal."
  • Power failure? No problem. On-site back-up batteries and generators can take the strain instantly. "We're here to make sure that nothing will go wrong, and to keep people and businesses connected 24/7," says Jamie Hall, customer operations lead.

 

This article first appeared in issue 5 of Perspective, the magazine for Tata in Europe. Read the ebook here