SimpleCDN Takedown: A Cautionary Tale for Resellers?

Last week, SimpleCDN customers were struck by service disruptions due to the company’s primary service provider,, pulling SimpleCDN’s servers. The incident should serve as a cautionary tale for the smaller customers that companies like SimpleCDN serve: The cheapest service is rarely the most reliable. At the same time, the incident also raises questions about service-level agreements, TOS changes and how much notice is enough for businesses to make critical changes in their infrastructure needs.

SimpleCDN’s problems began in early December, when it received notice from UK2 Group’s that it was violating the company’s terms of service by using the dedicated servers housed in Softlayer data centers for CDN services. There’s some debate over when the new TOS had been established, and how much time SimpleCDN should have been given to move its services to another provider. But soon after SimpleCDN was notified of the TOS violation, 100TB and Softlayer began blocking access to its servers.

Since then, SimpleCDN has been in the process of trying to keep some of its clients online while helping them find new CDN providers. In an email, CEO Frank Wilson wrote:

“We have over 5,000 customers, including large clients like Garmin – and they are all affected by this. We have restored service for some, giving them time to seek alternative providers – however most of the smaller caching and live streaming customers are down.”

From 100TB and UK2’s point of view, the disruption was necessary because the way that SimpleCDN was using its servers was difficult to provision around. While many of its customers typically run servers that use 100TB or more a month (as advertised), the company and its supplier had difficulty dealing with the peaks associated with CDN services that were being run from their data centers. When asked for his side of the story, UK2 CEO Ditlev Bredahl wrote:

“The problem is that the CDN servers usage patterns are not consistent, in fact they are very hard to predict and plan around, so eventually one of our suppliers asked us to limit our number CDN clients on a case-by-case basis as it caused complications in their network. This was not targeted at one single CDN, but as a general rule throughout this supplier.”

As for the charges that it pulled servers indiscriminately and without warning, UK2 is passing the buck to SoftLayer, which disabled servers that frequently had high amounts of DDOS-level traffic running through them. In a statement, UK2 President and COO Jeff Hunsaker wrote:

“We (UK2Group) did not simply ‘turn off’ servers for network related issues. However, SoftLayer, our network provider, did disable servers who were classified as ‘repeat infringers’ under the DMCA by SoftLayer. In order to preserve our Safe Harbor status, it was required that these servers were disabled.”

Clearly part of the reason SimpleCDN was able to charge such low rates for its services was that it hadn’t actually built out a CDN running its own infrastructure. But for a reseller of such services — especially for one with 5,000 customers — it’s important that the company can operate if one of its suppliers goes down. This doesn’t seem to be the case with SimpleCDN, which says it is looking for alternative providers, but might not be able to restore services in time:

“You can’t just call up a dedicated server provider or a colo provider and ask for 300 servers to be installed overnight. Network provisioning, etc. takes weeks — and that is time we just didn’t have,” Wilson writes.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bugeater.

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