Global Glitch: Swaths of Internet Go Down After Cloud Outage

June 8, 2021by Kelvin Chan, AP Business Writer
FILE - In this Thursday, May 6, 2021 file photo, a sign for The New York Times hangs above the entrance to its building, in New York. Numerous websites were unavailable on Tuesday June 8, 2021, after an apparent widespread outage at cloud service company Fastly. Dozens of high-traffic websites including the New York Times, CNN, Twitch and the U.K. government's home page, could not be reached. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

LONDON (AP) — Multiple websites went offline briefly across the globe Tuesday after an outage at the cloud service company Fastly, revealing how critical a handful of companies running the internet’s plumbing have become. 

Dozens of sites including the New York Times, CNN, some Amazon sites, Twitch, Reddit, the Guardian, and the U.K. 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 was little discussion on 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 was “continuing 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 increased origin load as global services return.” A number of sites that were hit early appeared to be coming back online. 

Fastly said it had identified a service configuration that triggered disruptions, meaning the outage appeared to be caused internally. 

Still, all major futures markets in the U.S. dipped sharply minutes after the outage hit almost exactly a month after a cyberattack that caused the operator of the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S to halt its operations.

Internet traffic measurement by Kentik show that Fastly began to recover from the outage roughly an hour after it struck at mid-morning European time – and before most Americans were awake.

“Looks like it is slowly coming back,” said Doug Madory, an internet infrastructure expert at Kentik. He said “it is serious because Fastly is one of the world’s biggest CDNs and this was a global outage.”

Fastly is a content-delivery network. It provides vital but behind-the-scenes cloud computing “edge servers” to many of the web’s popular sites. These servers store, or “cache,” content such as images and video in places around the world so they are closer to users, allowing them to fetch it more quickly and smoothly instead of having to access the site’s original server. Fastly says its services mean that a European user going to an American website can get the content from 200 to 500 milliseconds faster. 

The impact of Fastly’s trouble 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 biggest and most sophisticated companies experience outages. But they can also recover fairly quickly,” said Madory.

That was how the outage was percieved befo

When the outage hit, some visitors trying to access CNN.com got a message that said: “Fastly error: unknown domain: cnn.com.” Attempts to access the Financial Times website turned up a similar message while visits to the New York Times and U.K. government’s gov.uk site returned an “Error 503 Service Unavailable” message, along with the line “Varnish cache server,” which is a technology that Fastly is built on. 

Down Detector, which tracks internet outages, posted reports on dozens of sites going down and said “there may be a widespread outage at Fastly.”

___

Frank Bajak in Boston and Zen Soo in Hong Kong contributed to this report. 

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