Firstly, we can learn to think outside the box. During the outage, different companies remained delivering content in some rather imaginative ways. The Guardian temporarily shifted its communications to Twitter to run a live blog, whilst The Verge (owned by Vox Media) created a series of live Google Docs that were then shared with users – a genius plan until one editor went rogue and accidentally left a doc unlocked, causing readers to swarm the document and begin editing freely themselves.
The BBC was one of few companies left unaffected. How? The BBC has a backup system in place, meaning that if one CDN goes down, content can still get to the end user, just along a different route (smart, eh).
And then there’s Netflix, weathering the storm with its Simian Army – a suite of independently developed tools that randomly disable production to make sure the streaming platform can survive sudden system failures without disrupting the service to consumers.
But, overall, a key learning here is that by allowing a few large companies to have a monopoly over the CDN market there exists an increasing centralization of internet infrastructure, resulting in single points of failure to cause sweeping outages.
As we hunger for more speed online, the internet’s infrastructure has been concentrated into the hands of a relatively small number of companies, as a smattering of CDNs (like Fastly and Cloudflare) and Cloud Hosts (like AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform) dominate the space.
Due to the scale of these companies, the providers rarely fail. However, on the rare occasion that they do fail (oftentimes as a result of human error), they pull large sections of the internet down with them, and whilst it is possible to run a site on two or more providers (like the BBC), this is a technically complicated and costly process. What is needed is a democratization of the CDN and Cloud Hosting market, one that safeguards against one small error causing global upheaval and allows users to access content undisrupted.