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Here’s why network downtime happens

Last week, two companies, with massive subscribers experienced disruptions in their service. Although the service interruptions lasted only a few hours, they still left many users with losses.

Facebook Inc, the parent company of social media networks such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger suffered outages twice in the week, a six-hour outage on Monday and a two-hour outage on Friday.

NetBlocks, an IT firm that tracks internet outages and their impacts, estimates the outages cost the global economy $160 million.

MTN Nigeria, the subsidiary of MTN Group largest telecommunication operator in Africa in terms of subscribers, also suffered service disruption on Saturday.

The disruption which lasted for about 5 hours affected not just individuals but businesses that rely on the network for connectivity.

The outages have become a recurrent experience in the digital era. For example, the Facebook outage on Monday is the worst outage since a 2019 incident that took the company’s site offline for more than 24 hours. MTN and other network operators also experienced service disruptions in 2019.

Read also: MTN Nigeria users experience hours of network disruption

What is a network outage?

A network outage is a situation in which there is no actual defect with your server or device, however, there is an issue with the Internet connection somewhere between your device and the server itself.

For a service provider, this may look like an inoperable portal, cutting off service to its customers. Regardless of what it looks like, network downtime is a massive loss of service that impacts the company’s network and functionality.

According to ThousandEyes, a network intelligence company, there has been an unprecedented rise in internet disruptions across the globe from the first half of 2020. Internet disruptions between January to June 2020 rose by 44 percent.

MedUX, a British-based company that monitors network quality says that service outages may occur during normal network operations across ISP, public cloud, and edge service networks and should not be taken as an indication that internet infrastructures do not hold up under strain circumstances. There are a variety of factors that can interrupt service, from temporary disruptions to longer-term incidents or degradations.

Causes of disruptions

Outages by an internet service provider (ISP) is one of the most common ways a wide area network (WAN) goes down. The causes of these outages can range from fiber cuts to core outages, and the average time to repair will change based on the original cause of the outage.

Fibre cuts refer to an accidental break in an optical fibre, typically due to new construction in the area. In January 2020, a large number of subscribers across Africa experienced internet service disruptions as a result of cuts to submarine cable systems on the high seas in Europe, especially the West Africa Cable System (WACS), which serves the Nigerian market and some West African countries.

Fibre cuts on land can also distort the quality of network service. Airtel Nigeria recently said it experiences 300 fibre cuts every month. This puts a strain on the quality of service it delivers to the market.

Network outages may also come from hardware failures no matter the size of the technology. Redundancy is just as important when it comes to hardware as it is when it is about WAN connections. A single piece of hardware crashing can cause disruptions just as quickly as a fibre cut or power outage. Experts say it is important to identify where single points of failure are in the network and predict which hardware components are most likely to fail or the hardest to replace.

Apart from hardware, natural disasters like earthquakes, flooding, etc can also lead to common network issues. In this case, there is nothing operators can do to prevent natural disasters. However, experts say planning ahead can help at least limit the damage that a natural disaster will cause and improve the company’s recovery time from the event significantly.

Network outages can also be a result of cyberattacks. Ponemon Institute report titled 2016 Cost of Data Centre Outages’, noted that cybercrime represents the fastest-growing cause of data centre outages, rising from 2 percent of outages in 2012 to 18 percent in 2013, to 22 percent.

In 2016, Dyn, an internet infrastructure company, experienced a wave of DDoS attacks, resulting in a massive outage that affected sites including Twitter, Etsy, Github, Vox, Spotify, Airbnb, Netflix, and Reddit.

In September 2021, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) said it was suffering from outages caused by a DDoS attack. A few weeks before the incident,, a Canadian VoIP provider said it was still battling a week-long, massive ransom DDoS attach. The REvil ransomware group demanded a $4.5 million ransom to end the attack.

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