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Quick stop: Why you just crashed Amazon, Reddit, Twitch and much of the internet


Not Fastly’s proudest moment.

Peter Daisy / Getty

Today will be remembered as the day the internet broke – before it was quickly repaired again. On Tuesday morning, many of the websites we rely on daily, including Amazon, Reddit, Twitch, Pinterest, and, unfortunately, CNET, went offline due to a major outage in a service called Fastly. Everywhere you look, there were 503 bugs and people complaining that they could not access key services and news stores, demonstrating how much of the internet relies on this largely unheard of cloud computing service.

At approximately 2:58 a.m. PT, the Fastly status update page noted an error saying, “We are currently investigating a potential performance impact with our CDN. [content delivery network] services. “Shortly afterwards, reports of major news publications appeared on Twitter, including the BBC, CNN and The New York Times, which are offline. Twitter itself was still working, although the server hosting its emojis crashed, leading to some weird tweets.

Instead of isolated incidents affecting individual sites, it turned out to be a huge disruption that brought much of the Internet to its knees. People around the world received error messages: 503 when trying to access sites, including some vital services, such as the web properties of the UK government gov.uk.

Almost an hour later, at 3:44 pm PT – or 6:44 am ET, on the eve of a working day on the East Coast of the United States and coming for lunch in the UK – Quickly updated his status page again to say the problem has been identified and a correction is applied. At 4:10 a.m., the PT company wrote on Twitter: “We have identified a service configuration that has caused global disruptions in our POPs and deactivated this configuration. Our global network is returning online.”

The same message was sent to CNET as a comment from Fastly speakers.

What is Fastly?

Fastly is a cloud computing service provider based in San Francisco that has been around since 2011. In 2017, a modern cloud platform was launched to bring websites closer to the people who use them. In practice, this means that if you have access to a website hosted in another country, it will store a portion of that website closer to you, so there is no need to lose bandwidth by removing all the content of that website from afar each time. when you need it.

This makes the website load time faster and optimizes images, videos and other content with a large payload to display quickly and smoothly when you land on a web page. Among the praises on the company’s website, he says he made loading Buzzfeed pages 50% faster and allowed The New York Times to work with 2 million readers simultaneously on election night. Edge computing also performs vital cybersecurity functions, protecting sites from DDoS attacks and bots, and providing a firewall for web applications.

Due to the way Fast is located between the back web servers and the front internet, as we see it, any errors on its part can lead to inaccessibility of entire websites. Due to the localized nature of the cloud edge platform, this also means that errors do not affect all regions in the same way at the same time (although people around the world report problems on Tuesday).

What is 503 error?

When you see a website showing error 503 instead of showing you the page you expected, it means that the server hosting the website is not ready to process the request. This also indicates that the problem is temporary and will probably be resolved soon.

It is usually caused when the server is down for maintenance or when the website is overloaded – for example, if too many people try to access it at once.

Why did Fastly fail on Tuesday?


Quickly issues service updates during outages.

Screenshot / CNET

We know that the Internet outage on Tuesday was caused by a “service configuration”, but not much more than it is now. Until the Quick investigates fully, it will be difficult to declare the root cause of the catastrophic failure. It is important to note that this is not necessarily a cybersecurity attack, as many people speculate on Twitter. There are many technical reasons why a CDN can fail, and cyberattacks are just one of them.

Why have so many websites been affected by the rapid shutdown?

Fastly is a widely used service by web publishers and services – and it became clear exactly how much was used on Tuesday when much of the internet became inaccessible.

The reason it is so popular is that the services it provides are considered essential by many online web properties, but not many companies provide these services. As such, a huge number of websites rely on a very small group of companies to keep working. Similar problems were seen when Cloudflare was hit intermittently last July and when Amazon Web Services has crashed last November.

As Corinne Cath-Speth, a PhD candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Turing Institute, said on Twitter, this means that “technical hiccups in a company can have huge consequences.”

“This, in turn, raises key questions about the dangers of consolidating (power) in the cloud market and the undeniable impact of these often invisible players on access to information,” she added.

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