Business Week's August 26, 1996 issue drew a dubious lesson about internet capacity from AOL's recent 19-hour outage. In a Business Week chat on AOL that Sunday, a guerilla in the audience set them straight...

BW: I think this topic tonight is something a lot of AOL subscribers can relate to. I'd be interested in hearing what some of tonight's participants experienced on Aug. 7 when the AOL service was down for 19 hours. I think it may have been a sign of things to come for the Net as a whole. See, the problems weren't really unique to AOL. In fact, they involved the type of gear, such as routers, that the entire Internet uses.

Q: The router problem was unique to AOL in that a router problem affected all 6 million users, nationwide--the nation's largest internet provider has about 400,000 members....

BW: True enough. I just meant that router problems in general aren't unique to AOL.

Q: Won't the problems always be worse on AOL, since all 6 million members pass through a single chokepoint at the machines in Virginia?

BW: I don't claim to be an expert on the AOL architecture. There's nothing inherently wrong with locating lots of server capacity in one place long as you have redundant capacity there, and redundant connections to it.

Q: AOL plans to spend $300 million marketing the service in the next two months. They've spent more than $200 for every member they've added--yet just over $100 million upgrading their equipment. Isn't that where the problem is?

BW: I feel bad here talking so much about AOL, since they're our hosts for this session And again, I don't know that much about their particular problems. I was only using them in the article as a symbol of the difficulties of the Internet as a whole.

Q: AOL isn't really a symbol of the internet's capacity difficulties, since their architecture (and problems) are unique to AOL. It's apples and oranges.

BW: Well, that could be the topic of a long and very involved debate. If this is back to the point that all the servers are in one place in the country I still fail to see why that should be an issue, given sufficient redundancy in server capacity and connections to it.

Q: AOL doesn't have "sufficient redundancy"! Otherwise the system wouldn't have gone offline for 19 hours! They had no backup system!

BW: That comment is obviously on the mark....

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