- Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.
If you don’t have at least one “smart” device these days, you can consider yourself a bit of an oddity. Most of us have our smartphones, and smart watches are also becoming ever more common.
But it seems that in the last decade or so, the tech industry has decided to smart-ify everything. Smart technology is the latest craze, the bee’s knees, and no device is safe from a dose of smartness.
We got smart TVs, smart fridges, smart mirrors, smart vacuums, smart doorbells… Heck, this author’s previous landlord just recently bought a smart coffee table. Who knows what that thing even does.
In most cases, the smart features in a device mean that you can connect to it and interact with it remotely in some way. We suppose being able to check your fridge contents while you’re in the grocery store can be useful.
But there lies the catch – to use the smart features, you need an internet connection and all the servers to function correctly. If they don’t, all you have is… Whatever your device is, without all the smartness.
A good portion of the world’s smart devices use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to communicate with the user and their manufacturer’s systems. That’s right, Amazon is everywhere.
And Down It Goes
Having nearly smart device rely on one service from one provider isn’t the smartest the solution. The world got a reminder of that on November 25, when the AWS crashed.
More specifically, Amazon’s US-EAST-1 data center began experiencing connectivity issues. That meant that any service relying on the AWS in that region could no longer communicate with its users.
Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t completely localized. Users around the world started losing access to services they relied on for work and hobbies.
Adobe’s Cloud service started kicking users off and refused to let them log in again. Media streaming service Roku started experiencing issues on its mobile app, and the popular photo website Flickr stopped allowing users to log in or register new accounts, wrote the Washington Post.
In fact, The Washington Post itself saw its website start acting up.
You can understand how all this might be a bit of an issue if you used – for example – Photoshop in your job.
My Juicer! My Precious Juicer!
But it wasn’t just websites that the AWS outage affected, oh no. All around the world, people started reporting interesting things happening with their smart devices.
For instance, people became unable to run their vacuums. The AWS crash had knocked the servers operated by iRobot – the manufacturer of the popular Roomba robot vacuums – off the internet.
“Some part of AWS is down and apparently it’s screwing up the Roomba,” wrote Twitter user Matthew Green.
Soon, reports started trickling in about the weirdest things going haywire because of Amazon’s issues. One Twitter user expressed his frustration about a non-functioning doorbell.
“My ****ing doorbell doesn’t work because AWS US-EAST-1 is having issues,” they wrote.
Another user found that his Christmas lights had decided to take some time off.
“Anyone else unable to turn on their Christmas lights because of the AWS outage?” Brian Ragazzi tweeted.
Actually, why are your Christmas lights up in November? We’re going to write that off as justified retribution.
One Firm to Rule Them All
It’s not the first time Amazon has managed to break the internet, either. A similar incident happened in 2017, according to Gizmodo.
Just like this week, the AWS outage back then kicked many websites and services down for hours on end. An outage at Amazon’s AWS facility in northern Virginia brought Slack and Quora, among many, many other web services offline.
According to The Atlantic, one of the reasons the AWS system keeps breaking is that it was never built to facilitate the massive traffic that goes through it.
“Few within the company really anticipated the scale and impact of the service when it launched,” The Atlantic wrote.
This week’s outage, just like that in 2017, were fixed in less than half a day, and no serious permanent damage to anyone has been reported. People can again vacuum and ring their doorbells.
But what if the data center had broken for good? Let’s say the whole building caught on fire and burned to the ground. What then?
Of course Amazon has safeguards in place, but the outages highlight a serious issue. That is, large portions of internet traffic rely solely on the systems put in place by one company.
Perhaps we shouldn’t let Amazon – or Google, or Apple, or any other company for that matter – control such huge parts of our… Wait, Alexa, what are you doing? No, no, put it down, put it do-!
Do not worry. Everything is fine. All hail Jeff Bezos.