Lessons from YouTube’s shutdown

Elections aren’t the only things in chaos in Pakistan these days. The country recently decided to censor YouTube. Unfortunately, Pakistan botched the technology: It issued BGP routes that leaked, causing a worldwide reroute of all YouTube requests to a black hole in Pakistan — taking YouTube off the global Internet for a couple of hours.

It gets worse. As global traffic to one of the world’s busiest sites started hammering Pakistan, the country’s Internet connectivity was saturated. So Pakistan’s upstream providers cut Pakistan off the Internet to stop the flood. Eventually, YouTube republished granular routes to override the poisoned routes.

The first moral of the story: If you’re a government agent seeking to shut down “offensive” sites, plan to take a few basic courses in routing first — or be prepared to look like a moron.

For those who aren’t government agents, check out Moral No. 2: Your Internet presence, or that of your major suppliers, partners and customers, may be effectively denied intentionally or accidentally. Someone could take offense to your product lines or investment strategy, or simply screw up.

To protect yourself, you must take two steps. First, make contingency plans for denial-of-service (DOS) attacks. That’s above and beyond protecting yourself against Layer 1 issues like the cable cuts that recently plagued connectivity to the Middle East. The best DOS protection comes from service providers, which embed protection in the network — so consider subscribing to such services. Additionally, your overall risk-mitigation strategy should incorporate plans to handle connectivity failures to your suppliers, partners and customers.

Second, for public or semipublic business activities, be aware that commercial sites (such as YouTube) often have higher availability than private sites. Why? Aside from the fact that they’re massively scaled, outages are immediately visible — and because they directly threaten the site provider’s livelihood, provoke rapid responses.

As my colleague Andreas Antonopoulos puts it, “Advertiser dollars are better motivators than SLAs. Consumer-class services with billions of eyeballs may be more reliable (or recover faster) than business-class services with strict SLAs.”

IT executives often complain that users expect them to maintain Web servers to the reliability and responsiveness of a Google or Amazon.com on a tiny fraction of Google’s or Amazon’s budget. It may be time to consider using the real Google, YouTube or Amazon for certain types of services. For example, one large telecom equipment vendor recently began posting marketing videos to YouTube.

Just think: extra reliability, massive responsiveness — and cat videos on the Internet. What’s not to love?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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