The Great S3 Outage of 2017

At 9:36 am, Los Angeles time, my friend sent me a link about GCE vs AWS. It all went downhill from there.

This is not an uncommon topic at work; I work with an ex-Google SRE and another guy who uses GCE for all of his own personal stuff and I hear that GCE solidly embodies “the MIT approach” while AWS seems to go far enough beyond “Worse is Better” that AWS approaches a Chaos Monkey as a Service.

At the tail end of our conversation, less than ten minutes later, at 9:45:07 am, I noticed a cronjob failing with the following error: (slightly reformatted)

ERROR: Could not access bucket
ERROR: HTTPSConnectionPool(host='', port=443):
  Max retries exceeded with url: / (
    Caused by ConnectTimeoutError(
      <botocore.awsrequest.AWSHTTPSConnection object at 0x7f6f22ffcc50>,
      'Connection to timed out. (connect timeout=60)')

Very quickly after that a discussion began in our slack channel dedicated to production incidents. Less than a minute after our failed cronjob, someone on HackerNews asked “is S3 down?”.

What followed was mostly my coworkers and I trying to figure out ways that we could keep the website up while S3 was down. The good news is that as I’ve already written we have tooling to keep certain slow requests from taking out the site. It’s not foolproof but I am confident that without it we would have had a complete outage after mere minutes. We mostly cranked down the reaper to reap faster and also patched in some lower timeouts for uploads to S3 that should be fast. The timeouts on S3 weren’t there before because they hadn’t ever really needed to be. Thanks Chaos Monkey!

Meanwhile the internet is aflame as S3 is down and a huge number of dependant AWS services have gone down as well. There’s this sortav joke with AWS users where the AWS status page is permantently green and the most you ever get is a green check with a tiny little i on it implying that a service is having trouble. Here is an awesome tweet exemplifying the feeling:

Probably the best moment was when Amazon had to tweet that, well, they couldn’t update those little green checkmarks… because it was inexplicably tied to S3 hosting.

Another good moment was when the previously mentioned HackerNews post had a comment by a person who (presumably) works at Y-Combinator saying that their single-core server couldn’t handle the load that page was putting on it. I am not a person who uses HackerNews, but the general culture of faddishness culminates in a message like that one.

“I wrote a commenting system in a weird version of lisp that I also wrote! Neat!”

(years pass)

OH NO I forgot to make it production ready!!

Posted Tue, Feb 28, 2017

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