When Giants Fall: Memorable Moments In Downtime History For Big Business

When Giants Fall: Memorable Moments In Downtime History For Big Business

March 23

Maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of the BDR-related content published online is targeted at small businesses. Makes sense, right? After all, smaller companies, due to their limited resources, are more vulnerable to the many disasters that threaten business continuity. Plus having been there and done that, you might assume that bigger companies are thoroughly schooled on the importance of a solid contingency plan.  The little guys may have a harder time preparing and rebounding, but history has shown us that when it comes to downtime, size does not matter.

The Bigger They Are, The More They Lose!

This goes without saying, but it’s impossible to have a smooth online shopping experience when the site you’re visiting is out to lunch. A number of Internet users learned that firsthand when a recent outage left out of commission for roughly 20 minutes. The web giant did not comment on what caused the outage, leaving much open for interpretation and speculation. Was it maintenance-related? A security breach, perhaps? Who knows? What we do know is that Amazon lost out on a lot of money during that brief window of unavailability.

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According to Internet Retailer, the outage in question cost Amazon something in the neighborhood of $3.75 million. Ouch! That figure is primarily based on the near $99 billion the company did in sales last year. The author of the piece came under fire for his rough estimation, but that number may not be so far off base if you actually think about it. Tens of millions of visitors per day. Armed with a smörgåsbord of product options, personalized recommendations, and 1-click purchasing power. Take all that away for twenty minutes and it’s clearly a nice chunk out of Amazon’s pocket.

Missing out on big sales is nothing new for Amazon. Back in 2013, the website went down for nearly 30 minutes, resulting in estimated lost sales of more than $66,000 per minute. Like Internet Retailer, Forbes based its calculations on the sales Amazon netted the previous year. Unfortunately Amazon’s struggles with uptime have not been limited to its popular shopping destination. AWS, the Amazon cloud,  has seen its fair share of downtime over the years as well.

Paid TV Problems on President’s Day

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President’s Day 2016 may be remembered as a time of fury and frustration for one group of cable TV customers. It was on that Monday morning when subscribers in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, New York, Portland and other major cities reported issues with their Comcast television services. The loudest complaints came from customers who still had access to their local channels, but couldn’t view any premium programming. Some called in to voice their displeasure. Others took to social media, where unfortunately for Comcast, the outage spread with wildfire-like rapidness.

Down and Out on Wall Street

Fear and and uncertainty are common drivers of stock market volatility. On one hot day in the summer of 2015, it was a system malfunction that triggered mass chaos for traders who test their luck on the New York Stock Exchange. What began as a small problem that only affected a select few customers turned into a big deal that led to the cancellation of orders and eventually the suspension of all trade activity. The NYSE IT team traced the three-plus hour outage back to a simple software update a programmer made just before trading began.

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The NYSE and NASDAQ both have realistically become such stock market powerhouses that it would take a major catastrophe to bring them down. With that said, one too many run-ins with downtime will force the most dedicated trader to start questioning their reliability. It’s the same for any company. Stakeholders and partners will continue to lose faith the more you go down and the longer you take to get back up. There comes a point where the reputation you built is overshadowed by the perception molded from your actions – or lack thereof.

Chaos in the Cloud

The tech giants just keep dropping as we move on to Apple. Last May, an untimely outage disrupted a number of Apple’s cloud services, including iCloud Backup, iCloud Drive, iCloud Mail, and Back to My Mac. While some of the affected services were merely sluggish, others went offline completely. The outage lasted several hours and reportedly impacted 40 percent of Apple’s 500 million worldwide users. Unlike the Google incident cited above, this particular outage prompted backlash from Apple users whose faith in the cloud had been shaken to another degree.

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Speaking of the cloud, the controversial computing model has been directly tied to some of the most notable outages in recent memory. In February of 2015, Google experienced an outage that proved to have global implications. A mysterious glitch took down multiple zones of Google Compute Engine, resulting in an outage that spanned more than two hours and affected enterprise customers from the US to the UK. While there wasn’t much outrage, Google called the incident ‘unacceptable’ and apologized to those affected. The February event turned out to be the first of several outages the web giant would experience that same year.

Where’s the Redundancy?

Whether it’s Amazon going down for the umpteenth time or Apple disappointing the i-Faithful yet again, the incidents discussed here could suggest one thing: redundancy deserves more attention in business continuity planning. Redundancy aims to give your disaster recovery strategy another layer by making sure additional systems can pick up the slack if your primary systems fail. Building a fully redundant, high-availability infrastructure can be an expensive undertaking. But does the cost of downtime outweigh the cost implementation? That is the question companies like Comcast have to answer.

The moral of the story is that no one company is invincible. Technical difficulties happen and when they do, system availability may be compromised. We’d like to limit any downtime to scheduled maintenance, but that’s just not the reality where IT concerned. While the outages mentioned here aren’t as catastrophic as some of what we’ve seen throughout the years, they underscore the fact that even the giants of technology have notable strides to make in planning for disaster.