By Scott Hamilton
Senior Expert Emerging Technologies
A wide-spread internet outage occurred again Thursday, July 22, 2021, at around 11:00 a.m. Central. This is the second such outage in the last few months. It raises a question, “What can take down a large portion of the internet?” I discussed a lot of it in an article during the last outage, but a brief overview is necessary to understand the reason for calling these unknown companies technology giants. The internet is largely based on a service called DNS (domain name service) that is like a telephone directory for websites. All devices on the internet get assigned a unique address, a lot like a phone number. These addresses are four sets of 8-bit binary numbers, in decimals (0-255); without DNS we would all have to memorize the numbers of our favorite websites. The technology behind DNS is what makes the internet user-friendly.
This is where it gets a little scary, there are only two major companies that control a bulk of the DNS infrastructure, Fastly and Akamai. The previous outage earlier this year was during a routine software patch at Fastly and the one yesterday was caused by a routine patch at Akamai. Who are these technology giants that control a bulk of the DNS services globally? I decided to do a little research and find out.
Fastly is an American company that runs the primary business of supplying cloud computing services. They are headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., and employ roughly 1,000 people. They have an annual revenue stream of merely $200 million. They are far from being considered a giant corporation, but the service they provide keeps giants like Google alive; without the services from Fastly, a majority of Google services would fail to work. Fastly was founded in 2011 by Artur Bergman and in September 2015, formed a partnership with Google to become the provider for their edge cloud platform. This is the mechanism with which Google services like G-mail, G-suites and Google sites are exposed to the Internet. In other words, without the services of Fastly most of Google’s products would fail to work. Google has a one trillion-dollar market value and could be held hostage by Fastly.
Akamai is a global company headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., running a similar business to Fastly. Akamai was founded in 1998 by Daniel Lewin, F. Thomas Leighton, Randall Kaplan, Preetish Nijhawan and Jonathan Seelig. They have an annual revenue stream of $3.198 billion and provide content delivery services, cybersecurity and cloud services. Akamai’s Intelligent Edge Platform is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms. Akamai’s mapping system assigns each user to an edge server nearest their location based on sophisticated algorithms, enabling more reliable and faster web downloads.
Akamai’s primary customers are Apple, where they host their Quick Time stream services, Microsoft Azure for end customer cloud services, Valve’s Steam game streaming service, Nintendo’s latest game consoles using Akamai services for online gaming platforms, and Amazon Prime video streaming service, just to name a few. Much like Fastly, the smaller Akamai corporation has a majority of the control over much larger corporations’ access to the Internet.
There seem to be a lot of people worried about the power and control that big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have over us as individuals, but I would argue that the bigger danger comes from these two unknown giants controlling the majority of Internet Content delivery services worldwide.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to email@example.com or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.