Double Disruption: Demystifying the South African Internet Outage of March 14th, 2024 


The internet disruption experienced in South Africa on March 14th, 2024, served as a wake-up call for many. Businesses relying on cloud services might have worried about a security breach, while everyday users grappled with frustrating slowdowns or complete outages.  However, the culprit behind this disruption wasn’t a single, monolithic event. It was a combination of two separate issues: physical damage to critical infrastructure and a cloud service provider experiencing its own network problems. 


Social media was abrupt, with users taking to the online streets to report their issues. The disruption wasn’t limited to specific websites or apps. Outage tracker Downdetector saw a surge in reports of issues across a wide range of services. This included popular platforms like FNB, LinkedIn, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, and social media (likely referring to X).  The impact extended to mobile data services, with many Vodacom customers experiencing outages in various parts of the country.  Furthermore, broadband users across multiple providers, including Mweb, Openserve, Seacom, Telkom, Vodacom, Vumatel, and Vox, reported difficulties accessing the internet. This widespread disruption highlighted the interconnectedness of online services and the critical role internet infrastructure plays in our daily lives. 


Undersea Cable Breaks: The Backbone Falters 


The primary cause of the internet disruption was physical damage to underwater cables along Africa’s west coast. These submarine cables are the unsung heroes of the internet, carrying vast amounts of data across vast distances.  Reports suggest that several key cables were affected, including the West Africa Cable System (WACS), MainOne, SAT3, and ACE. This multi-cable outage significantly reduced the overall internet capacity for South Africa. 


Imagine a highway system choked by multiple accidents. Undersea cable breaks act similarly, hindering the flow of data across the internet.  This impacted various internet service providers (ISPs) like Vodacom, leading to a domino effect for their customers.  Users experienced: 


Intermittent Connectivity Issues: The connection might have dropped repeatedly, making it difficult to maintain a stable online presence. 

Slow Speeds: Even when connected, data transfer speeds were likely sluggish, impacting web browsing, streaming services, and online applications. 

Complete Outages: In some cases, the internet connection might have been entirely unavailable for a period. 


The Cloud and Undersea Cables: Different Systems, Shared Impact 


The cloud offers robust security features to safeguard your data, but it relies on the physical infrastructure that transmits that data. Undersea cables are a crucial part of this infrastructure. When these cables are damaged, the overall internet connectivity suffers, impacting cloud-based services as well. 


This doesn’t negate the security benefits of the cloud. However, it highlights the interconnectedness of technology and the importance of a diverse infrastructure.  Redundancy, having multiple pathways for data to travel, becomes crucial during outages. 


The Microsoft Azure Outage: A Cloud-Specific Hiccup 


Adding another layer to the March 14th 2024 disruption was a concurrent outage experienced by Microsoft Azure cloud services in South Africa and potentially the UK.  Microsoft acknowledged a “networking issue” impacting its Azure data centres in the region. This resulted in: 


Increased Latency: Delays in data transfer, leading to slow loading times and sluggish performance in cloud-based applications. 

Packet Drops: Data packets, the small units that make up internet traffic, might have been lost in transit, causing glitches or disruptions in cloud services. 

Service Outages: For some users, specific Microsoft Azure services might have become completely unavailable during the outage. 


It’s important to note that Microsoft quickly investigated and addressed the Azure outage. However, the event emphasises the importance of choosing a cloud provider with a proven track record of reliability and built-in redundancy within their systems. 


The Ripple Effect: Businesses Impacted by the Disruption 

The March 14th outage had a significant impact on businesses of all sizes in South Africa.  For those reliant on Microsoft Azure cloud services, the disruption caused a range of issues: 


Disrupted Workflows: Businesses using Azure for core applications like email, customer relationship management (CRM), or project management software experienced delays or outages, hindering employee productivity and collaboration. 

E-commerce Slowdown: Online stores using Azure for their e-commerce platforms faced potential lost sales due to slow loading times or complete outages during a critical trading period. 

Customer Service Delays: Businesses utilising Azure for customer service tools like chatbots or support ticketing systems might have encountered delays in responding to customer inquiries. 


The impact wasn’t limited to large corporations.  Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also embracing cloud solutions.  For them, the consequences of slow internet speeds, even without a complete outage, can be particularly damaging: 


Reduced Efficiency: Slow internet connections can significantly hamper daily tasks like downloading large files, attending video conferences, or using cloud-based accounting software. This translates into lost productivity and wasted time. 

Customer Frustration: Slow website loading times can lead to customer frustration and lost sales for small businesses with online storefronts. 

Limited Collaboration: Cloud-based collaboration tools are essential for many SMEs. Slow internet speeds can make it difficult for teams to work together effectively and efficiently. 


Alongside the above issues, the long standing issues of loadshedding further impact the productivity of business, both large and small. While many users poked fun at the shutdown, using it as an excuse to get some off time to rest or run errands, many experienced the anxiety of missed deadlines and longer working hours on the 15th of March 2024.  


The Booming South African Cloud Landscape and Data Security 


Despite the recent outage, the South African cloud computing market is experiencing significant growth. According to a BMIT report, the market is expected to reach a value of R79.7 billion by 2027, fueled by an awareness of the security and agility offered by cloud solutions. 


However, the March 14th event underscores the importance of understanding both cloud security and how your cloud provider approaches data residency within South Africa. Here at Dotcloud, we prioritise data security and offer solutions that comply with local regulations such as the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA). 


How Dotcloud Ensures Your Data Security 


At Dotcloud, we understand the importance of keeping your data safe and secure.  We employ a multi-layered approach to data security, ensuring your information remains protected: 


Data Encryption: Data is encrypted both at rest (stored on servers) and in transit (being transferred). This renders the data unreadable by unauthorised users even if intercepted. 

Physical Security: Our data centres are physically secure facilities with restricted access control systems, surveillance systems, and environmental controls to prevent unauthorised access or damage. 

Compliance with Local Regulations: We adhere to South African data privacy regulations, ensuring your data is handled according to strict legal guidelines. This includes data residency options, allowing you to choose where your data is stored within South Africa. 

Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing: We conduct regular security assessments to identify and address potential vulnerabilities in our systems. This proactive approach helps us stay ahead of evolving threats. 

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