In the last couple of hours we’ve fielded many calls and emails from our FileMaker and WordPress website hosting clients that were unable to access their applications and websites.

It wasn’t quite an “appocalypse,” but it was a major inconvenience…

In this particular case our office was also affected and we quickly determined it was an issue with Comcast/Xfinity. Other ISPs (Verizon, etc) also had reports of downtime. So although our hosting servers were up and running effectively, users could not connect to them reliably from their side of the internet pipe.

A number of internet service providers appear to be down today across the country, from California in the west to New York in the east. According to DownDetector.com, most recent reports for Comcast are coming from Mountain View, Denver, New York, Portland, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.- NeoWin.net

For many services, you can look for yourself to see if they’re available (assuming you can get some internet access, i.e. on your phone) http://downdetector.com/status/comcast-xfinity

Help! I can’t get to my Hosted FileMaker DB or WordPress website!

The ComcastCares Twitter feed showed the following…

Help! I can’t get to my Hosted FileMaker DB or WordPress website! 1

So in this case the issue was with their connection to the wider internet — Level3 Communications appears to have been under some kind of attack. Depending on which site you were visiting (and from where) some worked, some were slow, and some failed to load. While the internet is designed to “route around issues” — if too much traffic tries to take a detour, you can get gridlock (just as you do with road construction).

Previous large outages like this have been caused by parts of Amazon Web Services going down (which often results in cries of Netflix being down as they utilize AWS heavily) or issues at data centers that host large numbers of servers.

Others could connect just fine from home, with internet service from CenturyLink, USI, or their mobile hotspot. We have some other clients with Comcast service reporting that email and web traffic is working, but they couldn’t get to their hosted FileMaker database. We had trouble connecting to their workstations with TeamViewer. This was a partial outage – some kinds of traffic were affected while others were not.

Here are some news articles offering further details:
https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/6/16614160/comcast-xfinity-internet-down-reports
https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/06/comcasts-internet-down-major-us-cities/

If your business relies on a stable internet connection to get work done, you have a few options, but when a major player in internet connectivity is attacked, even these may not save you:

  1. Purchase a second internet service and bridge the connections.
    This increases your internet speed every day, and unless the issue is affecting everyone, it insulates you from issues with a single provider
    Bridging hardware and setup is complicated and should be done by a network engineer to ensure stability and security
  2. Keep a second lower cost connection as a backup
    Low cost wireless internet options are generally not the fastest, but could mean the difference between lost sales and unhappy customers
    A wifi router from a mobile carrier can generally handle more than one device at a time, but usually require a monthly subscription.
    Some providers like FreedomPop have plans that only charge you for bandwidth used (and a small activation fee).
  3. “Use the phone, Luke!” Tethering a mobile smartphone via it’s “hotspot” function is the cheapest/easiest way to do this as you likely already have one in your pocket and are already paying for the wireless data. However asking an employee to donate their bandwidth to keep your business online may not go over well.
  4. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) – Some users on Twitter found that using a VPN like Encrypt.me or similar allowed them to route around the outage

In all cases it’s a tradeoff of time for money. It’s more expensive to have redundant systems, but you’re glad you have them when unexpected events happen. If an incident like this creates the potential to lose money for your business it may be worth it… especially if it happens often. If it happens only once every 2 years for 4 hours… the ROI may not be there.


Also published on Medium.