Last week Wednesday, beginning at around 7:30 PM, YouTube was hit by some form of massive outage that appears to have affected all YouTube services across the world. If you tried to watch a video between 8:00 and 9:00 that night, the height of the outage, and received the “an error occurred screen”, you shouldn’t worry about your computer or connection, the issue affected everyone.
The problem was incredibly widespread. Down Detector, a popular service for tracking outages online, showed a peak of nearly 280,000 “I can’t use YouTube” reports that night, and that is only counting those who went online to report the problem. Outages on that scale are nearly unheard of on the modern web.
Down Detector Report for YouTube on November 11
As for what caused the outage, we simply don’t know. YouTube has not been very forthcoming with the details. The company did release the following statement, but as you can see it isn’t exactly illuminating.
However, we can rule out some possible culprits. YouTube is a subsidiary of Google and all YouTube processes, including video streaming, are physically “hosted” by servers in one of the 19 massive data centers that Google keeps scattered around the planet.
Google keeps its data all over the world
The interesting thing is that even on the level of individual servers Google does not distinguish between YouTube data and other data, at least not that our research could determine. This means that the massive outage was likely not caused by, for example, some sysadmin spilling coffee on a server. If the issue had been rooted in the material plane, Google Drive, Classroom, Gmail, and a host of other services would have experienced the same issues.
Since all other Google products appear to have been fine, the outage was likely caused by a problem in the YouTube software itself. What that issue was we have no way of knowing. Hopefully Google will release more information at some point, although it is entirely possible they won’t want to draw any more attention to the incident.
This is certainly a story to keep an eye on, if only because the scale of the outage was so unprecedented. Nevertheless, we should thank the Google coders who managed to get things running again in just over an hour. We can only hope that they keep YouTube going strong for many years to come.