LONDON – Multiple websites around the world went offline briefly on Tuesday after a failure at cloud services company Fastly, showing how critical a handful of companies in charge of the internet have become.
Dozens of sites, including the New York Times, CNN, some Amazon sites, Twitch, Reddit, the Guardian and the UK government’s home page could not be reached.
In Asia, cities like Hong Kong and Singapore were also affected, with users unable to access the CNN website. In China, where most foreign media websites are blocked, there has been little discussion of the outage on social media platforms such as Weibo.
San Francisco-based Fastly acknowledged a problem just before 6 a.m. Eastern. It said in repeated updates on its website that it “continued to investigate the issue”.
About an hour later, the company said, “The issue has been identified and a fix has been applied. Customers may experience an increased tax on origin if global services return.” A number of sites that were hit early were found to come back online.
Fastly said it had identified a service configuration that was causing disruptions, meaning the outage appeared to have been caused internally.
Yet all major US futures markets fell sharply minutes after the outage struck, almost exactly a month after a cyberattack that left the operator of the largest fuel pipeline in the US to stop its activities†
Internet traffic measurements by Kentik show that Fastly began to recover from the outage about an hour after it hit mid-morning European time — and before most Americans were awake.
“Looks like it’s slowly coming back,” said Doug Madory, an Internet infrastructure expert at Kentik. He said: “It’s serious because Fastly is one of the world’s largest CDNs and this was a global outage.”
Fastly is a content delivery network. It provides vital but behind the scenes cloud computing “edge servers” for many of the web’s popular sites. These servers store, or “cache” content, such as images and videos, in places around the world so that they are closer to users so that they can retrieve it faster and more smoothly rather than having to access the original server of the site. fast says its services mean that a European user who goes to a US website can get the content from 200 to 500 milliseconds faster.
The impact of Fastly’s problems highlights the relative fragility of the Internet’s current architecture, given its heavy reliance on big tech companies — such as Amazon’s AWS cloud services — as opposed to a more decentralized model.
“Even the largest and most advanced companies have to deal with outages, but they can also recover quite quickly,” says Madory.
This is how the malfunction was experienced
When the outage hit, some visitors trying to access CNN.com got a message saying, “Fastly error: unknown domain: cnn.com.” Attempts to access the Financial Times website returned a similar message, while visits to the New York Times site and the UK government returned the message ‘Error 503 Service Unavailable’ along with the line ‘Varnish cache server ‘, which is a technology Fastly is built on.
Down Detector, which tracks internet outages, posted reports on dozens of sites that were down, saying, “There could be widespread outage at Fastly.”