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Hour-long outage reveals fragility of online global economy, experts warn

·3-min read
<p>The outage hit major websites around the world</p> (PA Archive)

The outage hit major websites around the world

(PA Archive)

Tech experts have issued warnings over the fragility of the global online economy after a glitch at a Silicon Valley-based internet infrastructure firm brought down thousands of websites around the world.

A service configuration error at Fastly was at least in part behind an outage that lasted for almost an hour on Tuesday, and hit firms from online retailers to streaming services. Fastly's website says it supports retailers such as Dunelm and tech payments provider, Stripe. Stripe and Dunelm both posted on social media about loading issues on Tuesday morning.

Fastly's content delivery networks (CDNs) store data on servers kept around the world close to clients' hardware, offering faster load times for company web pages hosting large files.

The hour-long outage could have cost companies affected around the world millions in lost revenues, as consumers were unable to access websites and advertisers could not be shown.

The global economy - thought to be worth $133 trillion in 2019 - is now hugely reliant on the internet, and the infrastructure firms underpinning it.

One analyst suggests that, assuming around half of all economic activity today depends on the web, the cost to the global economy of the internet being down for a week could be around $1 trillion - meaning that just an hour of all internet services going down could cost the global economy billions.

Harry Briggs, managing partner at Canadian VC giant and tech investor, OMERS Ventures, said the day's events are a "reminder about single points of failure in global tech".

Gaz Jones, Technical Director of digital agency Think3, warned that "the entire internet has become dangerously geared on just a few players."

He said: "This is what happens when half of the internet relies on Goliaths like Amazon, Google and Fastly for all of its servers and web services."

Ben Wood, analyst at tech consultancy CCS Insight, told the FT that "these occasional blips underline the fragility of its [the internet's] fabric".

Experts have encouraged individual websites to look into creating their own contingencies to keep their site online should a similar issue happen again.

Shares in the New York-listed Fastly fell as much as 5.5% Tuesday in premarket trading after its services went down.

The firm began reporting problems at 10.58am BST, and at 12.09pm BST wrote on Twitter: "We identified a service configuration that triggered disruptions across our POPs globally and have disabled that configuration. Our global network is coming back online."

At 1pm BST it updated its users, writing: "Customers may continue to experience decreased cache hit ratio and increased origin load as global services return."

This morning Stripe tweeted: "From 09:49–10:18 UTC, the Dashboard, Support Site, Stripe.js and Checkout failed to load. This issue is now resolved. API requests were unaffected."

Dunelm responded to customer queries by saying that it was experiencing and resolving "an internal error and this is causing issues on our website and systems" in the period.

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