The internet had come to its knees on Tuesday, with 503 errors appearing all over the web. A fix arrived more than an hour later.
Today will be remembered as the day the internet broke down – before a speedy recovery again. On Tuesday morning, several websites we rely on daily, including Amazon, Reddit, Twitch, Pinterest, and unfortunately, a major outage at a service called Fastly, went offline. Everywhere you looked, there were 503 errors and people were complaining they couldn’t access major services and news outlets, demonstrating how much of the Internet depends on this unheard of cloud computing service.
At around 2:58 p.m. PT, Fastly’s status update page noted an error saying, “We are currently investigating the potential impact on performance with our CDN. [content delivery network] Services.” Soon after, reports of major news publications including the BBC, CNN and The New York Times going offline surfaced on Twitter. Twitter was still running, although the server hosting its emoji went down, causing some strange Visible tweets.
Instead of isolated incidents affecting different sites, it turned out that it was a massive outage that brought the Internet to its knees. Around the world, people were receiving Error: 503 messages when trying to access sites including certain critical services, such as the UK government’s gov.uk web properties.
About an hour later, at 3:44 a.m. PT – or 6:44 a.m. ET, the end of the US East Coast weekday, and coming to noon in the UK – swiftly updated its status page again to say this issue Do has been identified and a fix was being implemented. At 4:10 a.m. PT, the company tweeted: “We have identified a service configuration that caused disruption to our POP globally and have disabled that configuration. Our global network is coming back online.”
The same message was sent to Nerdshala as a comment by spokespersons for Fastly.
Fastly is a cloud computing service provider headquartered in San Francisco since 2011. In 2017, it launched an Edge cloud platform designed to bring websites closer to the people who use them. This effectively means that if you are accessing a website hosted in another country, it will store some of that website closer to you so that all the content on that website can be accessed every time you need it. Do it remotely, no need to waste bandwidth.
This makes for faster website load times, and optimizes images, videos, and other high-payload content to show up quickly and easily when you visit a web page. Among the claims on the company’s website, it says it created 50% faster loading pages on BuzzFeed and allowed the New York Times to simultaneously handle 2 million readers on election night. Edge computing also performs important cybersecurity functions, protecting sites from DDoS attacks and bots, as well as providing a web application firewall.
The way Fastly sits between the back-end web server and the front-end internet, as we see, any error on its part can cause entire websites to become unavailable. Due to the localized nature of the Edge cloud platform, it also means that the errors don’t equally affect all regions at the same time (although people around the world experienced problems on Tuesday).
What is 503 error?
When you see a website displaying a 503 error instead of showing the page you were expecting, it means that the server hosting the website is not ready to handle the request. It also indicates that the problem is temporary and will be resolved soon.
Typically, this happens when a server is down for maintenance, or when a website is overloaded – for example, if too many people are trying to access it at once.
Why did Fastly fail on Tuesday?
We know that Tuesday’s internet shutdown was caused by “service configuration”, but no more than now. Until the rapid is thoroughly investigated, it will be difficult to declare the root cause of the catastrophic failure. It is important to note that this is not necessarily a cyber security attack, as many have speculated on Twitter. There are many technical reasons why CDNs fail, and cyber attacks are one of them.
Why were so many websites affected by the Fastly outage?
The service is increasingly widely used by web publishers and services – and it became increasingly apparent on Tuesday when vast areas of the Internet became unavailable.
The reason it is so popular is that the services it provides are considered essential by many online web properties, but many companies do not provide these services. As such, a large number of websites rely on a very small group of companies to run. Similar problems were observed whenlast July, and when last November.
As Corinne Cath-Speth, a Ph.D. Candidate at Oxford Internet Institute and Alan Turing Institute told on twitter, it means “technical bottlenecks in a single company can have very large implications.”
“This, in turn – raises major questions about the dangers of (power) consolidation in the cloud market and the undeniable impact these often invisible actors have access to information,” she said.