Earlier today you may have noticed that large portions of the internet just… broke. A bit like that episode of South Park. Major sites including Reddit, Twitch, Amazon, Spotify, the BBC, CNN, and even Tom’s Guide suddenly stopped working entirely or suffered problems with pages not displaying properly.
So what was that all about? Well it appears that the problem stemmed from an issue at one single service: namely content delivery network (CDN) provider Fastly. Here’s what you need to know.
A CDN refers to a group of servers that have been distributed over different geographic locations. These work in tandem to ensure fast delivery of internet content — which makes them pretty important services. Fastly happens to be one of the biggest of them, servicing huge numbers of major websites.
A CDN is sort of like a middle-man, and Fastly itself runs an “edge cloud” that is designed to do a great many things to improve and optimize the end-user’s browsing experience. That includes making sure servers are as close to users as physically possible, to speed up load times, help services deal with unexpected traffic spikes, and protect from denial-of-service attacks.
Obviously, that means that if Fastly ever goes down, users will be unable to access any of the web content that its clients produce — and that’s seemingly what happened earlier today.
Fastly’s status page first noted there were problems happening at 5.58 ET, while promising to investigate further. The issue was apparently identified at 6:44 ET, with a fix being implemented 13 minutes later to end the disruption. Around this time affected websites and services slowly started coming back online.
Unfortunately this issue wasn’t localized, and Fastly reported that this was a global outage, meaning it affected everyone from New York to Sydney and everywhere in-between.
Affected services included us here at Tom’s Guide, Reddit, Amazon, Twitch, Etsy, PayPal, Venmo, Giphy, Target, eBay, the BBC, CNN, Squarespace (and any websites it hosts), as well as streaming services like HBO Max, Vimeo, Spotify, and Hulu.
Fastly has now confirmed that the outage was caused by a faulty service configuration, which has now been disabled.
We identified a service configuration that triggered disruptions across our POPs globally and have disabled that configuration. Our global network is coming back online. Continued status is available at https://t.co/RIQWX0LWwlJune 8, 2021
It goes to show that while we typically like to think of the internet as this intangible platform floating around in the cloud, it is still completely reliant on physical hardware to operate properly. If a problem occurs with some of this hardware, or the software running it, outages can and do occur. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a server farm, a local internet exchange point, or something else entirely.
We saw something similar happen last year when Cloudflare, a major DNS service, went down for roughly 25 minutes. That issue, as it turned out, was caused by a faulty router somewhere in Atlanta, which misrouted traffic to places it shouldn’t have been going.
Thankfully now that the problem has been identified and fixed, all your favorite websites and services should be back pretty soon — if they’re not already.