A data center in Ho Chi Minh City has suffered an outage causing unusually long downtime and a huge impact on several Vietnamese online newspapers and Internet users across the country.
VinaData, located at the Quang Trung Software City (QTSC) in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12 and owned by VNG Corporation, one of Vietnam's largest technology companies, went down on Sunday morning.
The outage directly affected operations of the online platforms of various newspapers, including Thanh Nien (Young People), Tien Phong (Vanguard) and Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon), and those of the Voice of Vietnam radio, newswire Zing and news aggregator Bao Moi (New Newspapers), with access denied to readers between 11:00 am and 2:30 pm on Sunday.
In addition to the news sites, VNG services such as Zing MP3 music player, Zing TV, free messaging service Zalo, payment gateway ZaloPay, and the company’s online games also became inaccessible.
The newspapers and VNG services all use a content management system (CMS) called ePi, hosted at the VinaData data center.
Mai Ngoc Phuoc, editor-in-chief at Phap Luat (Law) newspaper, said the volume of pageviews at its website plo.vn fell 30 percent from the normal weekend level during the server downtime.
“The incident also left a considerable impact on the running of advertisements on our site, and we are still calculating the final damage,” Phuoc told news website VnExpress.
Nguyen Ba, deputy editor-in-chief at Infonet.vn, a news website run by Vietnam's Ministry of Information and Communications, reported a similar loss of online traffic on Sunday.
“There are several major events and stories that happened on Sunday, which readers would pay attention to, but our site went offline for hours,” Ba said.
“In addition, our reporters and editors had their hands tied during the period.”
With most of the VNG services widely used for business and communications among local users, the power failure of the data center also affected several Internet users.
Tran Tuan Minh, a resident in District 2, told Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper that his online business was badly hit by the incident.
“I run my business on my website and Facebook, and conduct all communication and customer care via Zalo,” Minh said.
“When Zalo did not work on Sunday, I was prevented from communicating with customers via the app from the morning till the afternoon, causing all my work to stand still.”
Likewise, Hoang Thuy Minh, a resident in Go Vap District, complained that she could not contact her family and friends via Zalo all Sunday.
“I promised to call my family, who are overseas, via Zalo on Sunday. But both my family and I could not make any call at all until late that night,” Minh said.
Many Zalo users affected by the Sunday hiccup are expecting answers from the service operator.
“I pay almost US$1,000 each month to run advertisements on Zalo but the app did not work on Sunday,” said Duc Hoang, an online retailer.
“I haven’t heard anything from Zalo about what it’s going to do to compensate me,” he said.
Cause and apology
In an email sent to its clients shortly after the incident broke out, VinaData said the disruption was due to a power cut at the QTSC.
But Phuoc of Phap Luat blamed the incident on VinaData for being “careless” and failing to have a backup plan as QTSC had well informed its clients about the power cut several days in advance.
He went on to say that Phap Luat is looking at ways to avoid such an incident in the future.
“We are considering switching to another data center that is more stable and prestigious.”
After power supply resumed, the affected online newspapers and Zing services came back on at around 4:30 pm on Sunday. But Zalo, ZaloPay and VNG's online games remained inaccessible until 11:00 pm the same day.
In a separate statement on Monday, VNG sent an apology to its customers and said “this is the most serious problem that has ever occurred to its data center” and the incident “has left a significant impact” on its clients and users.
The company refused to release figures of its damage and said it would work with clients to “review all the specific damage and have solutions to protect their rights and interests.”
According to security expert Nguyen Hong Phuc, it is “unacceptable" when VinaData let the power cut happen as electricity, networks and the cooling system are the three basic foundations of a data center and also the reasons why customers use the service instead of having their own servers.
Phuc noted that a downtime that lasted for hours is intolerable for such a crucial platform as a data center.
The incident on Sunday is the second time this year that VNG has been hit by a systemic problem.
In April, the Vietnamese tech giant had to apologize over an alleged data breach that led to the leaking of login credentials of more than 163 million of its game accounts.
On its website, VinaData stated that its service meets Tier III Certification's standard with a full system of power sources and cooling systems.
However, the website of Uptime Institute, the American professional services organization that adopts the Tier standard and the associated certification of data center compliance with that standard, showed only two data centers in Vietnam, which belong to telecom giants VNPT and FPT, that meet its Tier III criteria.
In order to acquire the Tier III standard, a data center should offer 99.982 percent of availability with less than 1.6 hours of interruption each year.