If you were one of millions who sat down after Christmas Eve dinner to curl up with a good movie on Netflix, you may well have been disappointed; and not just because Dark Knight Rising wasn't listed in the new releases.
Netflix suffered an unfortunately timed outage lasting about seven-and-a-half hours Monday night, causing more people to spend quality time actually talking to their relatives. Red-faced Netflix issued an apology, although it blamed the outage on technical troubles its service provider Amazon was having.
"We're sorry for the Christmas Eve outage and we're aware that many of you are having trouble streaming," the company posted on its Facebook page Monday. "Our teams are working hard along with Amazon Web Services to address the issue, and we hope to be back up as quickly as possible. Stay tuned for an update once the problem has been resolved."
The company even acknowledged the "terrible timing" in a tweet at 4:25 p.m. on Dec. 24, promising that engineers were hard at work on the problem.
That was followed on Christmas afternoon with a "huge thanks to members for being patient. You should now be able to stream Netflix as you normally do. We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday."
Behind the Scenes
The trouble wasn't the fault of the Los Gatos, Calif.-based video-rental giant, which had 26 million subscribers as of the middle of last year. Netflix uses Amazon's Web Services (AWS), based in northern Virginia, for streaming, and attributed the difficulty to Amazon.
In its status dashboard on Monday at 3:15 p.m. Pacific time, Amazon reported about its CloudSearch service: "Creating new domains and indexing operations are unavailable in us-east-1. Existing search domains continue to serve search queries."
Earlier, at 1:50 p.m. Pacific time, AWS reported this about its Elastic Load Balancer service: "We are investigating increased error rates for Elastic Load Balancing API calls in the US-EAST-1 region. This issue does not affect traffic on running load balancers, but the API may report that instances are out of service for some calls."
There was also an issue with the 'Elastic Beanstalk' system. All issues were resolved by the next morning.
In response to our request for comment, Amazon provided the following statement: "On December 24, AWS experienced issues with the Elastic Load Balancing service that impacted some customers in the US-EAST region. Impacted customers started to recover the evening of December 24 and the service was fully recovered and functioning correctly on December 25. "
The temporary absence of precision leading to glitches is a normal part of the high-tech world, recently affecting everything from Google's Gmail, Verizon Wireless's long-term evolution data network, and Twitter.
The Grinch Can Wait
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said Netflix fans likely would be gracious.
"I expect being unable to see Jim Carrey mug his way through 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' was less upsetting than missing a key football match-up," he told us.
"At the end of the day, the situation may be more damaging for Amazon than Netflix, since it qualifies as the third major failure for AWS during 2012. While online retailers and social networking sites were mainly impacted by the first two events, the Christmas Eve outage may leave many wondering whether AWS is literally ready for prime time."
More than 14,000 people liked Netflix's status on Facebook announcing the outage was over, and 1,700 people commented. One said: "This was the [first] time that this happened with Netflix. With ATT there are always issues." Another said, "Thanks Netflix! Happy Holidays."
But one was less magnanimous, posting: "Stupid little twit whoever made this stupid outage!" followed by a pouting emoticon. Indeed, that pout was shared by many.