Server Down: Internet Outages in Simple Terms

More than 50 years since the internet's creation, we still suffer from such basic errors as the internet going on sleep mode. Why does this keep happening?

  • What causes the internet to break so often?
    What causes the internet to break so often?

827,000 people responded to Mark Zuckerberg's apology after Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram went down last week. It's understandable as some of them had to make actual conversations with their families (the horror!).

Aside from the effect of the outage, the cause had people blaming everyone from a 13-year old whiz kid in China who is actually 20 years old now (people were circulating an old picture and fell for the gossip)...

  • Can you imagine taking down Facebook because you were bored with your friends asking you to hack accounts for them?
    Imagine taking down Facebook because you were bored of your friends asking you to hack accounts for them

... to linking the outage with Mark Zuckerberg's cryptocurrency ambitions.

Reality is a little simpler, as it turns out the error was caused by a routine maintenance job gone wrong. Facebook engineers issued a command that unintentionally disconnected Facebook data centers from the internet.

This isn't the first time something like this happened in the past couple of years, either. 6 significant outages took place in the past two years that disrupted internet giants for several hours.

So why does this keep happening?

People usually suspect that these outages are the results of cyber-attacks, but they're usually the result of human error, which is compounded by the way the internet is held together. 

  • Not this kind of human error
    Not this kind of human error

"The internet isn't the large-scale distributed network that DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the original architects of the internet, tried to create, which could withstand a nuclear strike on any part of it," says Professor Bill Buchanan, an internet scientist.

The problem is that the protocols the internet uses are basically the same ones that were written when the internet first started out. This is why a single glitch in the internet's core infrastructure can bring the whole thing crumbling down.

The only thing one can do, according to Buchanan, is to improve the way data is stored and shared, or mass outages will only increase in the future. The outages are occurring so often nowadays because too much data is coming from a single source (the internet is now too centralized).