Double Fibre Network Rupture Downs Online Services Across The UK

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Two separate network breaks cut off access to data centres run by cloud firm Iomart, affecting a wide range of customers

British cloud provider Iomart has apologised for an outage that lasted for several hours on Thursday afternoon, rendering online services around the UK unusable.

Iomart lists as its customers organisations including the NHS, the English National Ballet and the Royal Horticultural Society, amongst other private and public organisations.

The problem meant Virgin Trains East Coast customers could not book or collect tickets online.

“Looks like we’ve ran into some IT issues this afternoon!” the train operator wrote on Twitter. “If you’re having trouble booking or collecting tickets, or accessing tickets through the app, have no fear – the Web Wizards are on the case!”

A map showing the locations of the two network breaks. Credit: Iomart

Double network rupture

ParentPay, which allows parents to pay online for their children’s school meals, was also unable to function during the period, although the company said it tried to ensure children were fed.

“We experienced technical difficulties today that meant users were unable to access the service,” ParentPay told IT news website The Register. “We informed all schools of the issue before the lunch period with a view to ensuring that no child went without lunch.”

“Traffic is flowing back through our network again,” Iomart wrote in a Twitter message late on Thursday afternoon. “Most customers’ services should be back online. We’d like to apologise sincerely for the problems that have taken place today.”

The incident highlights a danger inherent in cloud services, which put the back-end infrastructure of a large number of customers into the hands of a single firm.

While the approach can lower costs, it also means that any problems affect all of the cloud firm’s customers.

Such issues affect even the largest providers, including Amazon Web Services, as Iomart itself commented in a blog post published earlier this month.

“This does not mean it’s time to ditch the public cloud,” Iomart wrote at the time. “It is though, a wake-up call to consider how to avoid putting all your cloud eggs in one basket.”

The Thursday outage resulted from two separate breaks in the firm’s fibre-optic network, one south of Manchester and the other between Glasgow and Nottingham.

The ruptures caused data centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester to go offline.

Iomart said it worked with Colorado-based Zayo, its infrastructure provider, to resolve the outage. It said the network breaks affected other communications providers who relied on the network.

Cloud risk

Greensplash, an Iomart customer that provides web design and other communications services to medical organisations, said it was amongst those affected.

“As some of our customers are finding, as well as ourselves, our website hosting provider is suffering serious technical issues,” the firm said on Twitter. “Please be assured that we are monitoring this closely and will keep you updated.”

At one point, another Twitter user posted an image of the websites of Iomart customers Nublue, an e-commerce hosting provider, online marketplace Flubit and travel firm Destinology, all of which appeared to be unreachable.

“How do you know when one of your data centre providers is having an issue: a) support lines go straight to voicemail, b) the clients as advertised on homepage are all timing out,” user Kiel wrote.

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