Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but our over-reliance on it in the 21st century means that when it breaks, we often find that we have become too dependent on it.
In recent months, software giants and large corporations have been professionally embarrassed and publicly humiliated when their systems have gone down or gone wrong. Yesterday, was a prime example when Microsoft lost the data of their Sidekick users. A server failure saw thousands of Sidekick users lose their contacts, photos, calendars and to-do lists, which hadn’t been backed up.
Below is a round-up of some of the most catastrophic failures of technology:
1. The day the Swedish internet broke
At the beginning of this week, what was meant to be a routine maintenance of the Swedish top-level domain .se went horrendously wrong when all domain names began to fail. In essence, the entire Swedish internet broke – Swedish websites could not be reached, all Swedish emails failed and even today (14th October), not all systems are fully operational.
So what went wrong? Well apparently, during the maintenance, an incorrectly configured script that was meant to update the .se zone, introduced an error to every single .se domain name.
However, this is another more interesting theory; according to internet rumour the Swedish internet could have crashed when “millions” of Chinese and Japanese men cripped the country’s ISPs searching for Chako Paul – a mythical lesbian village. That’s right, the internet was broken by Asian men googling “Swedish lesbian village”.
Unfortunately, the place looks to be purely fictional. There go my summer holiday plans.
2. When Amazon’s clouds burst
On 19 July 2009, Amazon’s cloud computing services experience numerous problems that saw customers unable to access the main site for certain periods during the day.
According to Amazon’s Service Health Dashboard at the time, their EC2 computing cloud “detected a period of elevated packet loss from 12:31 PM PDT to 12:46 PM PDT in a single Availability Zone.”
Essentially, it died for 10 minutes. The amount of money they lost in that time is unknown.
The month before, Amazon suffered another power outage when one of their data centres was hit by lightning!
3. Rackspace crashes.
Rackspace, one of the world’s largest web hosts went offline for 45 mins in June 2009, knocking out providers the world over including New Zealand’s Xero.
The catastrophic crash was caused by a power failure at the US company’s giant data centre in Dallas and showed the fragility of web hosts. Rackspace has nine server farms around the world, but despite this the failure of one site still took the entire system offline.
Due to the fact that Rackspace’s own site was down, it was up to Twitter to relay the news and solutions from the company!
4. Wikipedia makes headlines and it’s not to do with inaccurate articles.
Wikipedia, one of the net’s busiest sites when offline for the morning on 31st July 2009 despite running on several hundred servers – 350 in Tampa, Florida and 50 in Amsterdam. The site was unreachable for two hours at the time, with both Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation and other associated sites unavailable.
It was not known why the site failed, but for one morning students the world over were forced to read books in order to plagiarize in their essays.
5. Gmail grinds to a halt
When Google crashes, you know something is wrong but at the beginning of September, that is exactly what happened. For most of the day on 1st September 2009, millions of users couldn’t access their Gmail accounts or their Google documents.
The problem reportedly was down to a “small fraction of servers” under going routine maintenance placing a larger load on the remaining servers. Users in turn couldn’t access Gmail via the web interface because their requests couldn’t be routed to a Gmail server.
Google fixed the problem by bringing additional routers online increasing their router capacity, but admitted more refinements will be needed prevent a repeat.
6. IBM grounds Air New Zealand
When a generator failed at an IBM centre in Auckland, it completely crippled Air New Zealand’s flight service. The power outage caused airport check-ins, online bookings and all call centers systems to crash throwing airports worldwide into disarray… as well as affecting more than 10,000 passengers.
Like Google and Sweden, the problem came during routine maintenance and saw power drop to parts of the data centre.
Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe was not happy and his thoughts where make public when an email sent to IBM leaked into the public domain.
“In my 30-year working career, I am struggling to recall a time where I have seen a supplier so slow to react to a catastrophic system failure such as this and so unwilling to accept responsibility and apologise to its client and its client’s customers,” he wrote.
All this shows how dependant our entire society and business market has become up on technology, and while we servers are routinely backed up, it only takes one small error like the ones above to plunge users into chaos.