Server network glitch takes out Gov.uk for an hourby
The Gov.uk website was unavailable for an hour or this morning (Tuesday 8 June) as the result of a glitch in the Fastly content delivery network that took out some of the biggest sites on the web.
Shortly after 11am on Tuesday 8 June, AccountingWEB members reported getting “Error 503 – service unavailable” messages from Gov.uk pages including the VAT EORI application page, Companies House, tax tribunal listings and the Covid-19 test report site.
They were not alone. Some of the biggest sites on the web were out of service, including the BBC, FT.com, The Guardian, New York Times and Le Monde.
But many other sites were unaffected, such as the servers that run Xero’s online accounting. AccountingWEB member Wilson Philips reported at 11:39am that while others were encountering error messages on Gov.uk, they had been able to log into the HMRC agent portal.
Fastly configuration problem
The source of the trouble was traced back to the Fastly content delivery network (CDN), which posted a status update just before 11am GMT saying that services were degraded across its servers in America, Europe and Asia.
It took Fastly an hour to identify the problem and apply a fix. However, “Customers may experience increased origin load as global services return,” the CDN provider explained in one of a series of unilluminating updates during the interruption.
It followed up an hour or so later with the explanation: “We identified a service configuration that triggered disruptions across our POPs (points of presence) globally and have disabled that configuration. Our global network is coming back online.”
The role of content delivery networks
The impact of Fastly’s technical fumble reflects the key role that content delivery networks play in accelerating digital media. Rather than relying on one master server as the content source, CDNs create a secondary network of mirrored servers to segment the workload for delivering material to local users.
According to CDNetworks.com, the typical profile for such services are sites with readers in different countries, social media sites delivering multimedia content and entertainment sites like Netflix and gaming platforms that pipe out a lot of fast-moving, high resolution graphics. Not forgetting official government websites that handle large volumes of users and information content.
The internet didn’t break. It was only a temporary glitch and normal service was resumed within a reasonable time, but this week’s Fastly incident is a reminder of how dependant we have all become on complicated web infrastructures.
Gaz Jones, technical director of digital agency Think3 commented: “Fastly CDN had major problems affecting Stack Overflow, Spotify, Stripe, Gov.uk and GitHub among others. 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. The entire internet has become dangerously geared on just a few players.”
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