Millions of websites go offline after a software glitch

6 minutes
Millions of websites go offline after a software glitch

Why should a slew of Websites went offline?

The hour-long Fastly Inc. outage was a reminder of how exposed the world's biggest websites are to the impact of disruptions ranging from straightforward human error to coordinated cyberattacks.

The failure of Fastly, which makes websites load faster, sent vast swaths of the web offline on Tuesday. News websites including CNN and the New York Times, services such as Inc. Shopify Inc. and Stripe Inc. plus sites as large as Spotify and Reddit go offline all went offline. The digital services of the UK government were also unavailable for a period.

According to Downdetector, which reports significant problems on Tuesday, major sites began reporting problems around 10 : 30 a.m. U.K. time.

In a summary of the events that unfolded, the company said a previous undiscovered software configuration change by one of its customers triggered a valid bug introduced during a software deployment in May 12. Fastly identified an issue with its content delivery network and announced it was rolling out a fix just 46 minutes after acknowledging the issue. The sites began to spring back to life soon afterward.

This downtime was broad and grave, and we're truly sorry for the impact to our customers and anyone who relies on them, said Nick Rockwell in the blog post.

Nevertheless, the cascade of failures across the web turned into a small service configuration' into a global outage that hit small companies and large users alike.

What really does Fastly do?

Fastly is one of a number of large website and application hosting services that very high companies use to serve content to millions of users simultaneously.

Rather than hosting all website content on a single set of servers in one location, fastly's so-called Edge Computing' model has servers in dozens of locations, allowing websites to serve pages to users from physical locations closest to them. This reduces lag time, speeds up page loading and spreads the burden on individual servers.

These vast and complex setups are run by just a few companies, such as Fastly, Cloudflare Inc. and Akamai Technologies Inc. The global edge computing market was expected to expand in 2021 until 2028 and is valued at $3.68 billion according to a recent analysis from Grand View Research.

While these setups usually work perfectly, their complexity means that even a simple error in a configuration file can trigger chain reactions of outages. For users, most of whom need never to think about how the Internet works, that can come as a shock.

'People believe that somehow things don't break. At the end of the day, it sits a computer in a server room with various components that can malfunction, said Mehdi Daoudi, co-founder and CEO of Catchpoint, a technology platform that monitors website performance.

The way networks are built, an outage can rapidly cascade. '' It's a domino effect.

The Universe of Content Is Expanding, Fastening

In earlier iterations of the Internet, a basic website consisted of a few pages of text and accompanying images, all of which lived in a single web server with an IP address all to itself. To access the site, a internet service provider directed a user request to that specific computer to access that Internet service from that particular computer.

This setup still works, but the rapid, exponential increase in digital content makes delivering it to large corporations vastly more complicated. More data that was generated by the analysts IDC in May suggests that more data will be published in the next three years than collectively over the past three decades.

Digital content today lives on numerous identical servers all around the globe; some are small, designed to keep up static content such as text, while others are filled with solid hard drives to pump out video files or packed with fast memory to maintain live conference calls to hundreds of participants.

The biggest content providers, such as Netflix Inc. or install their servers directly to those of an ISP to reduce the demand on networks, connect their servers within another network provider's infrastructure.

Content distribution networks began taking shape in the 1990 s as the internet outgrew its early infrastructure.

They have solved two problems: capacity and performance. They are not perfect...'' It started fastly today, but these Outages can happen to anybody, Daoudi told me.

The largest sites are maintained by experienced system administrators online. While they know that occasional outages are rarely critical and last more than a few minutes, failures that shut global renowned websites cannot go unnoticed and cause a stir on social media never go unnoticed.

But the furious chaos online - which can result in canceled tweets, failed transactions or canceled subscriptions - is often worse than the shorter impact. Even outages that are much longer, for several hours or more, are so minor that their business fallout is considered unusual.

While Fastly is one of only a few companies that provide this service, many investors have turned to the stock after the company lost its largest customer last year, an Chinese online-based and TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. After falling 350% alone in the second half of last year, the shares were down more than 40% this year. The stock was restored after service gained Tuesday.

There is no evidence to suggest Fastly reports that the issues were the result of a malicious cyber attack on Tuesday. But extended outages are often the result of hackers and not always the fault of companies hosting content.

For example, in 2016, millions of Internet users lost access to some of the world's most popular websites after hackers compromised domain name systems services such as Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, CNN, Etsy and The New York Times.

Users often do not see any difference between a distributed-denial-of-service attack or a failure of a content delivery network. Each can mean that the user is missing a server not found' error or a blank page, leaving them unable to access the site. More malicious hacks hijack websites in an attempt to extort users with ransomware.

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