What is Fastly and why did it cause a disruption to major websites?

The logo of the US cloud computing service provider Fastly is seen on the screen of a smartphone.

Pavlo Gonchar | Images SOPA | LightRocket via Getty Images

A host of major websites, including Amazon, Reddit, and news publishers like The New York Times, were affected by a massive internet outage on Tuesday.

The outages began around 6 am ET, and users reported that they were receiving error messages including “Error 503 Service Unavailable” and “Connection Failure” when trying to visit various websites.

The sites, which also included the UK government website, are now mostly online.

Early reports have pinned the blame on Fastly, an American cloud computing services company. Fastly’s status page said Tuesday morning that it was investigating a technical problem. Now it says that the problem has been solved.

Shares of Fastly were down in pre-market trading in the US, but were up as much as 6% when markets opened for trading on Tuesday.

What is Fastly?

It quickly operates what is known as a content delivery network or CDN.

CDNs are networks of servers and data centers distributed throughout the world that allow the transfer of assets necessary to load content from the Internet.

The company describes its technology as an “edge cloud” platform, which essentially means that it places its infrastructure closer to where it is needed to offer users faster response times.

Fastly’s technology is designed to counter common causes of online disruptions, such as distributed denial-of-service attacks that overwhelm a website with a sudden wave of traffic.

“The intent of CDNs is to route (or distribute) Internet traffic and services through ‘nodes’ to balance traffic load, avoid bottlenecks, and result in high availability and faster content delivery. ”Said Mark Henry, Chief Data Protection Officer. and cybersecurity at the DWF global law firm.

“Requests for content are driven by an algorithm, for example the algorithm could direct traffic to route through the highest performing or most available node, or for the traffic to take the fastest network route to the requester. ”.

Henry said some of the organizations affected by the outage were reverting to CDN-free delivery schemes to get their sites up and running again, but that this could result in a “slower than normal” experience for users.

Why did the outage occur?

The outage sparked online speculation that Fastly may have been the victim of a cyber attack. But Joshua Bixby, Fastly’s chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the outage was not related to an attack.

The company said in a tweet that it had “identified a service configuration that caused outages” in its machine groups globally.

“Our global network is coming back online,” the company added.

Tuesday’s downtime was another reminder of the increased concentration of crucial Internet infrastructure among a relatively small number of businesses.

“This is what happens when half of the Internet depends on Goliaths like Amazon, Google and Fastly for all its servers and web services,” said Gaz Jones, technical director of digital agency Think3. “The entire Internet has been geared dangerously toward a few gamers.”

When Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, encountered a problem in 2017, some of the world’s largest websites went offline for several hours across the entire US East Coast.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the American web security firm Cloudflare experienced an issue that lasted for about an hour and affected websites, including the Discord chat service and the OKCupid dating site.

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