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as we were discussing in the other thread,

coincidentily the miami herald had an article about it today



TECHNOLOGY


Those giant globes play vital role

Miami's NAP of the Americas is noticed all the time -- thanks to its large rooftop balls -- yet its purpose is still unknown to many in South Florida.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

[email protected]


You have no idea what they are.

You are not alone.

Many South Floridians never got the memo late last year that three big ol' round things were coming to town. No one told them these were components of a rooftop Internet satellite network, part of one of the world's largest Internet communications hubs.

One day they were just there. OK, actually it took a couple of months. First one ball, then two, then three, in the heart of downtown Miami. When confronted with the oddity, lots of folks just invented explanations.

''Some kind of planetarium. Or a telescope,'' guessed Ryan Ellis, 27, of Cutler Ridge. Ellis' wife thought the whole thing resembled a sewage plant, but was a little embarrassed about saying so.

''A water tower,'' said Steve Carle, 33, of Palm Beach, down in Miami for a Heat basketball game.

''I thought it was something from the community college,'' Coconut Grove's Frank Piedra said, referring to Miami Dade College. ``A museum for the Wolfson Campus. Astrological department or something.''

Can't leave out the tourists. Said Rafael Baugh, a 26-year-old visiting Miami from Perth, Australia: ``It looks like a snooker ball.''

A what?

Turns out the Aussie was referring to a billiards cue ball, albeit one used in a variation on the game popular in Europe and Asia. Three snooker balls. Perhaps owned by a race of gigantic, Godzilla-sized pool sharks. Yes, of course.

Sandra Gonzalez-Levy is a spokeswoman for the squat, yellow-and-white building -- known as the Network Access Point of the Americas, or NAP -- that houses the spheres. She will give you the truth, if you want it.

Located at 50 NE Ninth St., and easily visible from Interstates 95, 395 and downtown's Metromover, the spheres -- you can call them balls, if you don't mind provoking giggles -- are just fiberglass shells protecting the Internet satellite dishes. They showed up about six months ago, with the building below, the NAP, opening in 2001.

Two of the balls measure 68 feet in diameter, with the third of the bunch slightly smaller. Together with more than a million telecommunications fibers housed inside the NAP, the balls create a meeting place for computer signals traveling to and fro, sort of an Internet-style airport.

Blah. For less computer-savvy folks, that's not particularly exciting. More fun is what the balls might be.

`CONNECTIVITY'

But Gonzalez-Levy continues. She will tell you how the satellites inside the spheres greatly increased the facility's ''connectivity'' and how Miami's NAP is one of only five in the world to attain coveted Tier-1 status. It all sounds a little like tech-speak, but impressive tech-speak.

To seal the wow factor, Gonzalez-Levy then offers a tale dating back 2 ½ years, when the NAP safely defended the Internet world as we know it.

October 2002: Computer hackers attacked the NAP, specifically targeting a router owned by Internet registry service Verisign.

While nine similar routers in other locations succumbed to the hackers, the NAP successfully protected its router, Gonzalez-Levy boasts. Had it failed in that mission, she says, potential chaos awaited.

''The whole Internet could have crashed,'' Gonzalez-Levy said.

David Mason, who under the name ''Dr. Dave'' hosts a nationally syndicated radio show called Computertalk, questioned whether a hacker triumph at the NAP would have shut down the entire Internet.

But Mason said it could have made plenty of websites fundamentally insecure, with computer users much more vulnerable to viruses and the like.

Miami's NAP, Mason said, is part of the backbone of the Internet.

''If you have an injury to the spine,'' Mason said, ``then you have a dramatic affect on the body.''

When told of the hacker incident, South Floridians typically offer up more respect for the NAP, and its funny-looking spheres. A few are even eager to take a peek inside the place.

''I'm curious; what do they do inside that building?'' asked Andre Johnson, who works and lives near the NAP.

The NAP's high-security policies -- no windows, almost no visitors -- make it unlikely Johnson will ever get a firsthand look.

The Herald did, however, obtain a tour (no cameras allowed), and will gladly share everything it saw. But what do you want -- the bare-bones ''factual'' version or what it really looks like?

JUST THE FACTS

Facts: There are countless wires -- red, orange and yellow -- joined by blinking lights and the steady hum of machines that cost more than anything you own. Important customers have set up shop here, from AT&T to Bacardi to the federal government.

What it really looks like: a cross between your standard self-storage warehouse and the underground headquarters for an evil science-fiction supervillain. The NAP's Network Operations Center supposedly keeps tabs on the Internet, but with its dozen large-screen monitors -- one showing a shaded global map -- and advanced gadgetry, it could easily be the site of a world takeover.

''Like one of those Austin Powers movies,'' Johnson said with a laugh.

Exactly. That, or whatever else you imagine it to be.
 
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