What is AWS and How Did It Bring Down Instagram?

Sam Laird
Behold: The First Ever Instagram Shot [PIC]
View photos
1. Maura Grace (@folkfibers)

Instagram has been insta-tripping since Friday night and here's why: A in northern Virginia that took out the servers it runs on.

Maybe you're wondering how a storm on the East Coast killed access to your favorite photo sharing app, which is based in San Francisco. That's because , like many major web companies, uses an even bigger web company -- -- to host its traffic and data.

[More from Mashable: ]

An enterprise cloud-computing product called (AWS) powers businesses in 190 countries worldwide -- "hundreds of thousands" of startups and mature companies, all told, according Amazon's website. Pinterest, Netflix and Heroku are among the notable sites and services you may be familiar with -- in addition to, of course, "your Instagram."

Some call AWS the of the web hosting industry, so that gives even more of an idea of just how prevalent it is.

[More from Mashable: ]

AWS operates out of Oregon and northern California in addition to northern Virginia, but only the Virginia facilities were affected in Friday's storm. Still, that's enough to have people wondering how they'll see filtered Saturday brunch photos, as well as enough to make "My Instagram" trend worldwide on Twitter for several hours. (Pinterest and Netflix were back up by Saturday morning.)

The outage to Instagram and other major sites shows that -- despite massive hype and momentum in the Internet world -- cloud computing isn't necessarily a magic solution for businesses data and IT needs.

Amazon began offering the AWS service in 2006. It lets businesses host apps and websites, backup and store data, and generally run their enterprise IT. The idea -- as with cloud computing in general -- is businesses can stay more nimble by accessing servers from a remote location and renting space and capacity as needed. Scaling becomes easier and companies without resources for dedicated server hardware don't have to worry about that side of the business -- until something like this happens.

One product AWS offers is called as part of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service. This means a business can pay to set up EC2 service in multiple areas. Then, when service in a particular availability area isn't working -- say, because of a huge storm -- traffic is automatically rerouted to another, healthier availability area. Then load balancing is restored once all availability areas are healthy.

But if a company -- say, for example, Instagram -- doesn't have Elastic Load Balancing set up and has all of its IT needs hosted in just one AWS service area -- say, for example, Northern Virginia -- and a problem occurs, then it's a more serious issue. What's unclear is whether Instagram put all its data eggs in one AWS basket and in part brought Friday and Saturday's extended downtime upon itself, or whether AWS is failing Instagram entirely.

Mashable has contacted both Amazon and Instagram for comment, but so far not received a response.

Alex Hazlett contributed reporting to this post.

BONUS GALLERY: The Best Instagram Photos Ever Taken


Josh Riedel: "I love the way you can travel through photos. Maura (@folkfibers) travels the USA in her VW van, and her photos take you along for the ride. I like to imagine Maura pulling to the side of the road and leaning out her window to snap this shot as she's leaving the park."

This story originally published on Mashable .