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9/22/2010
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Google Denies Cables Targeted By Dalles Hunters

Exposed data cables, boredom, and firearms present a general risk, but Google data centers aren't under fire as reports suggest.

Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, Local Pain
Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, Local Pain
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Google says that reports that it has been forced to start burying the fiber optic cables that connect its Oregon data center to the rest of the world misconstrue what was supposed to be a general warning about protecting data cables.

Speaking at a conference in Sydney, Australia, last week, Google engineering manager Vijay Gill said that the onset of hunting season in November "invariably" brings gunshot attacks on its pole-mounted data cables, according to IT News.

Hunters, the IT News report says, forced Google to bury its data center cables underground.

"What people do for sport or because they're bored, they try to shoot at the insulators," Gill said in the IT News report. "I have yet to see them actually hit the insulator, but they regularly shoot down the fiber."

Matthew Neal, news editor for The Dalles Chronicle, said in a phone interview that his paper was looking into the story. He expressed some skepticism, noting that firing any kind of weapon in town would be a serious crime and that he's not aware of any shooting incidents at the Google data center site.

He also observed that it didn't make sense that hunters couldn't hit insulators, which are larger than fiber lines, but could hit the fiber lines.

Indeed, according to a Google spokesperson, the company is aware of a single incident involving a hunter and cables at one of its many data centers around the world. What Gill was trying to convey at the conference was the risk that any exposed cable faces from a variety of threats. He wasn't attempting to describe The Dalles as a war zone.

"We use a variety of technologies to interconnect our datacenters, including above-ground, below-ground, and undersea fiber optic cables," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "Each are subject to different failure modes, and because of our large network volume we regularly see events which are, on an absolute scale, still quite rare -- including hunting, flooding, fire, road construction and even once a cow funeral. To ensure that these events don't impact our users and our operations, we have redundant connectivity with multiple diverse fiber paths to all of our important locations."

Even so, Google does experience occasional attacks that go beyond cow funerals. In addition to ongoing cyber attacks and the odd protest at its headquarters, the company has seen its Street View cars blocked from entering an English village, attacked by pitchfork-wielding Norwegians wearing scuba gear, and vandalized in Germany.

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