Network Outages: The Worst Can Happen

Network outages can be unpredictable disasters for your network. One important aspect of a business that becomes vulnerable due to network outages is the business’s reputation. Outages in the digital age are public. From complaints on review sites to subtweeting frustrations on Twitter, outages that once only affected users now become scrutinized by the entire public. This can be embarrassing, and damage reputations, which can cause a rift in public relations and trust within the organization. The following companies have experienced this first hand and learned that the worst can happen when it comes to network outages.

eBay

eBay is a global online auction website that promotes online business-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer sales. In June of 1998, eBay experienced an outage that lasted nearly 24 hours causing an estimated loss of $3-$5 million. eBay stated that it wasn’t clear why it failed, however, there were issues with the software used to update bids and list items. The outage was more catastrophic because eBay had not finished implementing a backup system at the time of the failure. eBay’s response to the outage was to provide refunds to users, extend auctions and waive fees [1].

British Airways

British Airways is the flag carrier airline and the second largest airline in the United Kingdom. On May 27th 2018, May Bank Holiday, the airline experienced an outage that caused them to ground their entire fleet and cancel more than 400 flights which left 75,000 passengers stranded [2]. The outage was caused by human error at a key data center near Heathrow airport in London. The error caused a power surge that took out their IT systems and damaged the server [3]. It’s estimated to have cost €100 million as the airway needed to deliver compensation payments to the affected travelers [2].

Gmail

Gmail is Google’s free email service, that went live in April of 2004. In August of 2008, an outage rocked the Gmail platform affecting billions of people. Google reported that the outage was caused by an issue in the contacts system, which prevented the platform from loading [4]. Angry users took to Twitter and other sites to voice their frustration and disappointment. This created a lot of bad press for Gmail. In a public apology blog post, the platform stated that the criticism was received:

“We heard loud and clear today how much people care about their Gmail accounts. We followed all the emails to our support team and user group, we fielded phone calls from Google Apps customers and friends, and we saw the many Twitter posts. (We also heard from plenty of Googlers, who use Gmail for company email.) We never take for granted the commitment we’ve made to running an email service that you can count on.” [4]

Facebook

Facebook is an online social networking and media service. On March 13th, 2019 the social media giant experienced severe service issues, and ultimately their worst outage to date. Facebook sited a server configuration change that caused a series of issues which ultimately lead to the 24-hour outage [5]. Downdetector, a company that monitors service outages monitored the outage. Downdector found that Facebook’s outage ranked as the largest they’d ever recorded.

 

Data since Downdetector’s Launch in 2012 [7]

The outage produced an estimated 7.5 million reports as popular apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, three of the world’s most popular sites all went down. The only surviving social media platform, Twitter, took the brunt of user complaints [6]. Facebook is expected to lose $189 million in revenue from this particular outage, and their stock decreased by 1.5% the following day [5].

Network outages are a real threat to a business. Their reputation and customers are on the line. When a business is experiencing the outage, the main focus is to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it before too much time passes and more users are affected. There isn’t much they can do except fix it. However, solving the problem does not change the fact that it happened, and people will remember it happened. Businesses need to put out fires on the public relations side. People are more connected and they are more likely to complain about current outages than dwell in the past about ones that have already occurred. In 2008, Gmail had significantly fewer users than it does today in 2019. However, this does not detract from the severity of the outages those users experienced. Angry users can take to all social media platforms to announce their frustration. All the business can do is offer support, and try to prevent a similar outage from occurring. Answer questions to the best of their ability, offer financial compensation if needed and last but not least apologize, then apologize again. Admitting you’ve made a mistake and understanding the effects that your mistake has on your users is key to developing positive public relations after an outage disaster.

Sources

[1] Technologizer, “A Brief History of Internet Outages”  (2008)

[2] NetworkWorld, “British Airways’ Outage, like Most Data Center Outages, was Caused by Human Error”  (2017)

[3] TechRadar, “5 of the World’s Biggest Network Outages” (2018)

[4] Official Gmail Blog, “We feel your pain, and we’re sorry”
(2008)

[5] Vox, “After almost 24 hours of technical difficulties, Facebook is back” 2019)

[6] The Verge, “Facebook returns after its worst outage ever”  (2019)

[7] Largest service outages, by number of reports

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