Amazon Quiet on What Caused Hours-Long Outage for Major Websites, Airlines

Amazon Web Services experienced a major outage Tuesday, disrupting a range of U.S. companies from streaming services to airlines for over five hours.

Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network intelligence firm Kentik Inc, said the problems with the cloud computing network began mid-morning on the east coast.

Southwest and Delta airlines' booking systems were affected, with Southwest switching to their west coast servers. Toyota also reported that over 20 of its apps were affected. The outage even extended to the Associated Press, leaving the news source's publishing system diminished for most of the day.

Statements from Amazon on the outage were limited, with spokesperson Richard Rocha only saying the company's warehouses and deliveries were also affected and that the company was "working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

Approximately five hours after the issues began popping up, a post on the AWS status page said the company "mitigated" the issue that caused the outage. The company did not specify what this issue was.

According to DownDetector, a platform that gives users real-time information on website outages, Instacart, Venmo, Kindle, Roku, McDonald's app and Disney+ users all reported issues.

Madory said the outage was likely not caused by hacking.

"More and more these outages end up being the product of automation and centralization of administration," he said. "This ends up leading to outages that are hard to completely avoid due to operational complexity but are very impactful when they happen."

Amazon Web Services, conference, Las Vegas
Amazon Web Services experienced a major outage on Tuesday affecting companies across the country. Above, attendees arrive during AWS re:Invent 2021, a conference hosted by Amazon Web Services, at The Venetian Las Vegas on November 30. Photo by Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services was formerly run by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who succeeded founder Jeff Bezos in July. The cloud-service operation is a huge profit center for Amazon. It holds roughly a third of the $152 billion market for cloud services, according to a report by Synergy Research—a larger share than its closest rivals, Microsoft and Google, combined.

To technologist and public data access activist Carl Malamud, the AWS outage highlights how much Big Tech has warped the internet, which was originally designed as a distributed and decentralized network intended to survive mass disasters such as nuclear attack.

"When we put everything in one place, be it Amazon's cloud or Facebook's monolith, we're violating that fundamental principle," said Malamud, who developed the internet's first radio station and later put a vital U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission database online. "We saw that when Facebook became the instrument of a massive disinformation campaign, we just saw that today with the Amazon failure."

Widespread and often lengthy outages resulting from single-point failures appear increasingly common. In June, the behind-the-scenes content distributor Fastly suffered a failure that briefly took down dozens of major internet sites including CNN, The New York Times and Britain's government home page.

Then in October, Facebook—now known as Meta Platforms—blamed a "faulty configuration change" for an hours-long worldwide outage that took down Instagram and WhatsApp in addition to its titular platform.

It was unclear how, or whether, the outage was affecting the federal government. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in an email response to questions that it was working with Amazon "to understand any potential impacts this outage may have for federal agencies or other partners."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amazon, Amazon spheres, Seattle
Amazon officials have not yet disclosed what issue caused Amazon Web Services' major outage on Tuesday. Above, a pedestrian walks near the Amazon Spheres on the company's corporate campus in downtown Seattle on December 7, 2021. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo