Amazon S3, the cloud-based file storage system used by over 100,000 websites, suffered an outage that affected large swaths of the internet, highlighting the web’s “centralization” issue.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s largest provider of internet-based computing services, and their simple storage service, known as S3, is widely relied upon. Amazon S3 hosts images and files for over one hundred thousand websites and apps. That’s why a recent four-hour outage nearly brought the web to a halt.

The average webpage’s content is hosted from different services and locations, so when a particular service goes down, parts of that web page often become unavailable. But when so many web pages rely on one service to host integral parts of their operation, and that service goes down, myriad issues can start cropping up.

That’s what happened when S3 went down yesterday. Many websites use S3 to host their images and data, and as such, many websites and apps, like Netflix, Medium, and Slack, found their images weren’t loading, among other problems. Back in October 2016, a botnet attacked the domain name service (DNS) provider Dyn, and effectively shut down a large chunk of the East Coast internet for several hours. This was because, like with S3, hundreds of thousands of websites relied solely on Dyn’s services.

When S3 was experiencing errors, the AWS Service Health Dashboard showed green checkmark images across the board, indicating everything was running smoothly, even though it certainly wasn’t. This is because the Service Health Dashboard hosts the red X images (meant to replace the green checkmarks when everything is NOT fine) on S3, the same service that went down. Since S3 hosts its own health report, it obviously couldn’t let anyone know it wasn’t working properly. It’s this exact type of centralized redundancy that can be solved through decentralization.

Events like these recent service availability issues are practically advertisements for competing decentralized services like InterPlanetary File System (IPFS). IPFS is designed to replace HTTP, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that powers the World Wide Web. With IPFS, instead of your computer searching for a specific server that hosts the content you’re looking for, it just searches for the content directly. Due to IPFS’s decentralized manner of storing data, a server could go down without affecting a user’s ability to retrieve a file stored on IPFS. This reliability is what makes a decentralized content delivery network (CDN) so ideal.

The more the web becomes decentralized, the more reliable it will be. Centralization generally leads to a single point of failure, which is not ideal for any system that requires high availability. Decentralization will help to make online services more resilient against issues or attacks. It will be the way of the future, as Web 3.0 pushes away from centralization and embraces a more distribution-based approach to offering services.


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