A Los Angeles 'Hotel' for Internet Carriers Some of the bulky equipment that makes up the infrastructure of the Internet is being housed in so-called "Internet carrier hotels." Day to Day tech contributor Xeni Jardin visited one such site.

A Los Angeles 'Hotel' for Internet Carriers

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a slew of actors try on the roles of a lifetime, specifically the lifetime of Christopher Walken.

First, for most of us, the Internet is Web sites, e-mail and instant messaging. But the Internet also actually is a physical thing. It's a complex web of cables and switches and bulky equipment, and it's all got to be kept somewhere. A lot of it in sites called carrier hotels.

Tech contributor Xeni Jardin went poking around a place in Los Angeles called One Wilshire.

XENI JARDIN: If the Internet is a superhighway, One Wilshire is a really popular roadside hotel. This 30-story building that once exclusively housed law offices is now the home of some of the most important communications infrastructure in the country.

I'm with David Dunn of CRG West. He oversees the site.

Mr. DAVID DUNN (One Wilshire): It's going to be a little loud. In (unintelligible) centers such as these you get, obviously, the need for cooling equipment.

JARDIN: Without those fans, some of equipment in this room can get hot enough to fry an egg or a network connection.

Mr. DUNN: As you can see, they're just servers and - stacked up, a lot of wires.

JARDIN: As we look above us, the ceiling is just crammed full of cables, all different kinds of widths and colors and - wow.

In the tech biz, this place is called a carrier hotel. The occupants in this case are hardware and cables from Internet and telecommunications giants like AT&T and Google. And like the guests in a regular hotel, these networks can get to know each other. So if one telecom company needed to link up with another, it's much easier when they're under the same roof.

David Dunn says that's particularly useful for global business and pleasure.

Mr. DUNN: We have, you know, video game companies. You know, that's a huge thing these days, where online, 20,000 customers are playing against other people from around the world. So companies like video game companies need to be able to disseminate their traffic quickly, efficiently, and at a reduced cost.

JARDIN: And carrier hotels also maintain communications in emergencies. Back in December 2006, a 7.1 earthquake in Taiwan severed undersea fiber optic cables. Throughout Asia, thousands of computer screens froze, most voice and data traffic into and out of Taiwan was slowed or halted.

Getting to the bottom of the ocean and repairing the cables has taken months. But places like One Wilshire were able to reroute Internet traffic through their facility within days.

Mr. BRUCE SCHNEIER (Author, "Beyond Fear"; Tech Security Analyst): Well, the thing we learned from the Taiwanese earthquake is that the Internet actually works.

JARDIN: Bruce Schneier is a tech security analyst and author of the book, "Beyond Fear." He says the earthquake experience proves that the current architecture of the Web, including facilities like One Wilshire, has made the Net self-healing.

Mr. SCHNEIER: Unlike software vulnerabilities - which can affect everybody, which can bring down large swaths of the Net - physical loss - whether it's through natural disasters or even manmade disasters - this is the sort of thing the Net's supposed to be able to recover from. And largely, it does.

JARDIN: Some observers say the role carrier hotels play in the Internet's ability to cope with disasters could make them an attractive target for terrorists. While the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department wouldn't get into specifics, they did say sites like One Wilshire could be targeted because of their importance in global communications.

Schneier acknowledges the need to secure communications hubs, but cautions against public hysteria over cyber terrorism.

Mr. SCNEIER: When I think of terrorists - I mean, I sort of imagine bin Laden sitting in his cave and his associate says, you know, I know the next attack against the great American evil. We're going to drop their e-mail. And bin Laden says, don't be a moron. That's not what we want to do. We want to kill them. We want to terrorize them.

(Soundbite of traffic sounds)

JARDIN: Back at One Wilshire, David Dunn didn't have much to say about terrorism. But he did comment that business is booming. The growing popularity of Internet video and other applications that transmit lots of data is bringing more tenants to this carrier hotel.

(Soundbite of door opening)

Mr. DUNN: Step on in.

JARDIN: Dunn takes me to another floor that lawyers have left. Soon, more machines will be moving in, but Dunn acknowledges some of the value of this space will go unappreciated.

Mr. DUNN: Well, you know, we're on the 27th floor here. There are beautiful views of downtown.

JARDIN: So this beautiful view will be wasted.

Mr. DUNN: Exactly. It's kind of sad to think about.

JARDIN: For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Xeni has pictures of One Wilshire, and you can get podcasts of all her work at her page on our Web site. That's npr.org/x-e-n-i. That's how you spell it, but it's pronounced Xeni.

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