Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Weekend Lightning Stung Amazon and Instagram Right Where It Hurts

Friday night’s severe lightning storm knocked out power to millions of people on the East Coast, killed more than 20 people and left a sweltering mess in its wake.

The list of damages is long, but if you go down far enough, you’ll see that the storm also disrupted service at an Amazon data center in Northern Virginia by hitting the cloud giant in a tender spot.

In a statement issued today, Amazon explained what happened. At a location where it operates more than 10 data centers — it didn’t say exactly how many — power was afffected at several after lightning strikes. But at only one of those data centers did redundant power not kick in the way it was supposed to.

The result, Amazon says, was that a “single digit” percentage of customers had their services disrupted.

But what an unlucky and select few. Among them were Netflix and Pinterest, both of which recovered shortly after the initial disruption.

Here’s Amazon’s full statement:

Severe thunderstorms caused us to lose primary and backup generator power to a portion of a single Availability Zone in our US-East Region Friday night. For perspective, in our US-East Region in Virginia, we have in excess of 10 datacenters. In the thunderstorm on Friday night, several of our datacenters had their utility power impacted, but in only one of them did the redundant power not operate correctly (which ended up impacting a single digit percentage of our Amazon EC2 instances in the US-East Region). We began restoring service to most of the impacted customers Friday night and the remainder were restored on Saturday.

A less lucky member of that select few was Instagram, whose service was more severely disrupted well into Saturday.

Also mysterious is how Instagram, now in the process of being acquired by Facebook for $1 billion, is treating the outage. Tweets on its @instagramhelp and @instagram accounts on Twitter referring to the service disruption have been deleted. Below is a screen grab of one such tweet I saw Saturday. Who can blame Instagram for wanting to forget it ever happened? But really? We’ve asked Instagram to comment and will update this story if we hear back.

Here’s a screen grab of one of the deleted tweets that now returns an error:

(Image via Wikipedia.)


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald