Hurdles that digital infrastructure glitches pose for businesses


A woman holds a smartphone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and others seen on the screen in Moscow on March 23, 2018. A public apology by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on March 22, 2018 failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people, as critics demanded the social media giant go much further to protect privacy. PHOTO | AFP | KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

The Internet shook early last week when Facebook’s leading properties, patronised by billions of users every month seemingly, vanished online for several hours.

The pedigree of the teams at Facebook is not in question. What they have built in-house and continue to contribute to the open-source community is a testament to this.

They publish some of the most insightful software engineering content out there.

Directly managing as much of the production stack as possible — from hardware, data centres, and network infrastructure, to control the user experience and protect certain economic moats and intellectual property is astute.

This outage is not the first for this Internet juggernaut and will not be the last.

The majority online world regaled with colourful memes, jokes about the mass exodus to other platforms, and how much paper value Mark Zuckerberg shed.

The real impact and cost of the outage was lost and abstracted. At the F8 Summit early this year, where the latest product announcements across Facebook technologies for developers and businesses happen, the focus was on business messaging and tools. Login Connect with Messenger, Facebook Business Extension, the Messenger API for Instagram, and WhatsApp Business API were the showcase.

For perspective, more than 175 million users communicate with a WhatsApp Business account daily, and 90 percent of the more than one billion Instagram users follow at least one business account. At the individual level, the outage experienced by Facebook may not add up to much.

Summed up for the millions of businesses that rely on them to facilitate communications and commerce — advertising, storefronts, payments, and invoice discounting, the hiccup was devastating. Should it have persisted, the domino would have poured more visibly into the physical world.

There have been calls for more of a decentralised digital services landscape. It is challenging to pull off and scale, given that consolidation underpins the currently adopted business models.

Should there be a cap on value realised where intellectual property and capital are used to create a product or service?

The Internet is in both concept and function decentralised, but services are not. Interoperability is also not guaranteed, even with API-fication of everything, multiple protocols, and open standards.

What options are available and practical for resilient, commercially viable digital infrastructure? We are headed into a future where even our backups will require backups if we are to fully assimilate into a digital-first existence.

Njihia is the head of business and partnerships at Sure Corporation | | @mbuguanjihia