Yorkshire tech boss David Richards shares insight into Microsoft outage 'chaos'

When Microsoft’s services went down for five hours last week, it was a reminder of how much we rely on technology to help us run our lives and businesses.

Microsoft said the five-hour-long Microsoft 365 worldwide outage was caused by a router IP address change that led to packet forwarding issues between all other routers in its Wide Area Network (WAN).

During maintenance or upgrades, systems and networks are always more vulnerable, as there is more potential for things to go wrong - and the ripple effects can be widespread.

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David Richards, chief executive of Sheffield-based data management specialist WANdisco, said the Microsoft outage was a huge story because it doesn’t happen very often.

David Richards of WanDisco.
Picture Bruce RollinsonDavid Richards of WanDisco.
Picture Bruce Rollinson
David Richards of WanDisco. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“I’ve been into Microsoft's command and control centre, which is like going into NASA. They’ve got a wall and an entire team that deals with distributed denial of service attacks. So it makes big news because it doesn’t happen very often but when it does happen it causes chaos like we saw last week,” he said.

WANdisco, which employs 80 people in the centre of Sheffield, moves some of the world’s largest data sets within the automotive industry, telecommunications, rail and airlines from network edge systems and data centres to the cloud in order to run analysis against huge amounts of information.

It works across all clouds, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, helping businesses that need huge amounts of storage and processing power.

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It also ensures that the data set is moved to more than one location.

“So an outage in a cloud wouldn’t impact our customers because their data lives simultaneously in more than one place,” Mr Richards said.

And do things ever go wrong? “No, they genuinely don’t,” said Mr Richards. “That’s why we exist. We’ve had people accidentally delete things.

“What happened at Microsoft is that someone made a catastrophic error - probably in their IP table - and that’s what’s caused the outage.

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“So all the mapping for all the different IP addresses was destroyed. There’s not much you can do about that but you can have systems available elsewhere, which is what smart customers do.”

Demand is growing for WANdisco’s services. Last year bookings grew from $11m to $127m and they are expected to top $150m this year.

“We’ve got the only method of guaranteeing that you can move data from A to B without losing any of it,” said Mr Richards.

Moving large amounts of data to the cloud is happening at speed, particularly in industries such as transport and telecommunications because the cloud is more secure and available than traditional data centres. And it is changing the way the world works.

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“I’ve had two Teslas for two years. Neither has been into a shop or had maintenance because it’s all done over the internet,” Mr Richards said. “The way in which you buy automotive insurance is also going to change. Data science is going to mean that you will be charged insurance based on the way you drive, not guesswork based on your age and where you live.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface on what’s about to happen and it can only happen in the cloud because to do all that you need thousands of computers.”

He added: “If you’re going to bet your crown jewels on something then you put it into the cloud but companies shouldn’t just bet on one. They should keep their data simultaneously between different clouds.”