As unlikely as peaceful grazing cows are to cause a tech giant’s outage, it’s no less possible. And this has been revealed by Urs Hölzle, vice president of Google, senior manager of the company’s technical infrastructure, who has released a curious internal investigation to determine what was causing brief cuts in one of the high-capacity fiber optic channels installed by the company in the US
Ok here’s a new one: did you know that cows can cause network outages? Don’t laugh, it happened to us.
The beginning of the story: recently, we noticed frequent short outages (“flaps”) on a multi-terabit fiber path through Oregon. one/
– Urs Hölzle (@uhoelzle) May 21, 2020
In a Twitter thread, Hölzle, one of the brains of the company, has spread that the company had detected small cuts in one of its fiber lines, of various capacity terabits, as it passed through the State of Oregon. These falls, which the company calls flaps (something like “flapping”) are not uncommon in overhead fiber lines, which, when linked to high-voltage cables, can be damaged by bad weather. “But this time we find something different,” said the Swiss engineer. “The fiber line that had fallen to the ground was still working well.”
Investigations concluded that the cable had fallen to the ground, but was still transmitting data. The only news was that a farmer had started grazing his cows in the same area where the cable was. “Every time I stepped on the cable, I bent it enough to cause a flicker.” Mystery solved.
“Don’t you believe me?” Hölzle wrote in his latest tweet from the thread about cows and high technology. “Here is the image that has captured what happened: the high-voltage line, the fiber line fallen to the ground and a cow in the background.” “You are the first to hear this,” he concluded with humor.
Since his arrival at Google, the Swiss engineer has been concerned about the environmental cost of computer power consumption and has launched several programs to reduce it. Last February he referred in a blog of his company to a publication in the magazine Science, which highlighted that the volume of computing in data centers grew 550% between 2010 and 2018, but the electricity consumed barely grew 6% in the same period.