Fastly outage hits Reddit, FT, New York Times and Bloomberg

June 2021, a large number of important websites were taken offline due to a suspected problem with the Fastly cloud hosting service.

Leon Neal | Getty Images

Reddit and global news sites like the Financial Times, New York Times and Bloomberg experienced intermittent outages Tuesday morning that left some users unable to access the sites.

Some visitors to the UK and US websites received an “Error 503 Service Unavailable” message.

Amazon, Twitter, PayPal, Spotify, Twitch, the BBC and The Guardian were also reportedly affected. Tech site The Verge is using an open Google Doc to cover the story, even though they forgot to turn off editing.

Initial reports of the outage began around 6 a.m. ET, but the sites were mostly back online to users an hour later. However, some websites, including the UK government website, gov.uk and the New York Times, experienced slow load times and graphics issues.

US cloud computing service provider Fastly said on its website at 5:58 a.m. ET that it is investigating a technical problem. At 6:44 am ET, Fastly said the problem had been identified and “a fix will be implemented”. At 8:41 a.m. ET, Fastly said the problem was resolved. Fastly stock lost 1.6% in pre-trading hours after the default began. At one point it was down about 3%.

Fastly operates a content delivery network. A CDN is a network of servers and data centers around the world that enables the transfer of assets necessary to load Internet content such as HTML pages, JavaScript files, images, and videos.

Joshua Bixby, CEO of Fastly, reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that the outage had nothing to do with attack. The company later wrote on Twitter that its POPs (points of presence) were disrupted by a file that has now been disabled.

The infrastructure that underlies much of the Internet is operated by relatively few companies. If either of them has a problem, it can lead to widespread global outages affecting billions of people.

“That happens when half of the internet relies on Goliaths like Amazon, Google and Fastly for all servers and web services,” said Gaz Jones, technical director of digital agency Think3, in a statement. “The entire internet is dangerously aimed at just a few players.”

When Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, ran into a problem in 2017, some of the world’s largest websites across the US east coast went offline for hours. In 2019, Cloudflare, another CDN company, had an issue that lasted about an hour and affected sites like the chat service Discord and the dating site OKCupid.

Toby Stephenson, chief technology officer for IT and cybersecurity firm Neuways, agreed that the incident “underscores the dependence of many of the world’s largest websites on content delivery networks.”

“Because there are so few of these CDN services, these outages can happen from time to time,” he said. “Using these CDNs to deliver content to readers makes these sites usually fast and responsive, but on that occasion they were left with an egg in their face. The tech backends of these large sites are probably fine, but they are Front ends that cannot be accessed and content cannot be transferred because the network has failed. “

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