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Cut cables send Wikipedia crashing to a halt

Essay-writing students and fact-checking journalists (not really) were sent spinning into disarray yesterday, as online encyclopaedia Wikipedia suffered outage problems.

Company body Wikimedia says the outage began at 14:15 BST but was recovered at 15:18. However, Wikipedia and a host of its affiliated sites, including its mobile service, remained sluggish for over two hours.

Having investigated the issue, Wikimedia says the problem occurred due to a cable cut between two of its data centres in Ashburn, Virginia and Tampa, Florida. The sites are connected by two separate fibre links to cover redundancy, but while Ashburn deals with most of the traffic, it needs to be able to communicate with Tampa for supporting backend services.

“We do operate two 10g separate fibres between the data centres,” Wikimedia confirmed. “We are now working with our network provider to determine how and why we were impacted by that fibre cut when we are supposed to have redundancy in our network. We are still waiting for their full report.”

The organisation explained that Wiki staff worked around the outage by rerouting traffic to Tampa, thus bypassing the Ashburn site. Communications are yet to return to Ashburn, but the eventual switch “should not be apparent to users.”

Any suggestions of malicious intent behind the cable cut have so far been ruled out. Wikipedia’s availability can be checked on the site’s status page here.

Yesterday’s crisis may have been temporary for Wikipedia, but there are fears over long-term problems for the service due to a potential staffing crisis. Editors and administrators are on the decline which could lead to difficulties in maintaining the site for its huge user-base, which brings in a staggering seven billion views a month.