What the Century Link Outage Tells Us About Enterprise Internet

There’s a good chance you noticed CenturyLink’s big internet outage. It wasn’t a massive news story, but it was still a topic of conversations. Enough businesses in enough locations felt the pain that it was hard to make it through the event unaware. While it might put CenturyLink on the spot a bit, this is a great case study to examine how we plan for internet downtime and derive key lessons that can protect your business in the future.

The Big Outage

The end of 2018 proved rough for CenturyLink. On Friday, December 28th, the company was plagued by massive internet outages across the country. It lasted more than 24 hours, affected millions of customers and businesses, ranged across more than a dozen states and even impacted vital services like 911. Banking, lottery drawings, healthcare and every other conceivable industry were impacted. It was pretty much a nightmare scenario for an internet provider.

As a result of the unexpected outage and CenturyLink's inability to communicate the exact nature of the problem, the FCC has opened a formal investigation. They want to know if this is something that can threaten other providers and if regulatory action will be necessary to protect the integrity of the internet across the country.

What Went Wrong

At the time of this writing, there are still more unknowns than knowns, but we can still draw useful conclusions. First, CenturyLink is not a villain in this story. Their inability to communicate the exact nature of the problem was due to the fact that this was unprecedented. Now that they have restored service, it looks like they mainly isolated the source of the problem to a single network device. When it started exhibiting faulty behavior, it consumed so much bandwidth and sent so much bad data that it knocked out other, good network components. The result was a cascade effect that left so much of the country without internet.

Because investigations are still ongoing, it may turn out that there were multiple problems that struck the network all at once. At this point, it looks like the “doomsday” scenario network administrators all secretly fear.

Can It Happen Again?

For now, the only responsible answer is to say that this can in fact happen again. More importantly, it’s a problem that is not likely unique to CenturyLink. An errant component can plague any network, and this cascading effect is at least theoretically possible regardless of who built or maintains the network. While you can rest assured that every internet provider is now checking their own vulnerabilities, this outage has taught us that internet is not as robust a thing as might have previously assumed. It’s wonderful and we all like to rely on it, but outages are something we all need to consider.

Protecting Your Business

If you’ve listened to any experts at all in the last 10 years, you’ve invested in growing your online presence. That might make you feel vulnerable right now, but the truth is that outages have always been a risk. Large companies mitigate the risk by having multiple locations and service providers, but local internet outages have always been a thing, and every business location should have downtime procedures in place. Now that we know national outages are a potential problem, the next logical step is to draft a national outage procedure.

The key to success is something you already understand: diversify. You can consider contracts with multiple providers that use different technology. Having DSL and cable connections simultaneously is expensive, but it also doubles your chances of getting through the next outage with no losses. Similarly, you can diversify your general communication. Mix internet-based methods like email and social media with tried and true channels like cell lines, land lines and even snail mail. If you have a plan of action, a major outage might create stress and require some hard work to manage, but it will remain manageable. CenturyLink gave us all an opportunity to learn and plan ahead. It’s best that we all take full advantage.

About the Author: Victor H.

Victor brings 5 years of enterprise & SMB sales experience in the IT software space. Prior to joining Valicom, he served as regional channel sales manager working for one of the industry's largest enterprise labeling software companies. With a focus on great customer service in helping channel partners grow their businesses, Victor joined the Valicom team in late 2015 after relocating to the Madison area. Victor holds a bachelor's degree in Communication from UW-Milwaukee, and when he's not in the office he enjoys exercising, travelling abroad, and spending time with his growing family.