Ongoing Twitter outages speak volumes about infrastructure’s importance
A GATHERING STORM
Whether it’s an API error, or simply a notification that you’ve exceeded your allowed number of followed accounts, it falls well short of a complete outage or a network-wide meltdown. To the typical end-user presented with these errors, Twitter is still largely operational, but it seems to be experiencing a series of annoying glitches here and there. Over time, the annoyance factor adds up.
None of this is enough to trigger a mass response from the platform’s 300 million users. Yet. But it is enough to highlight an unwelcome increase in the reports of intermittent outages in the months since Elon Musk bought the company and took it private. And it’s enough to serve as a warning for the rest of us.
CUTTING COSTS – AND CAPABILITY
One of Musk’s first moves upon taking control was slashing the company’s infrastructure budget. A week after he first entered Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters as the new owner, Reuters reported he ordered his engineers to find ways to cut infrastructure-related costs by up to $1 billion annually.
According to the report, a Slack message thread discussed a project called “Deep Cuts Plan”, and included details of how the company would reduce daily spending on servers and cloud services by between $1.5 million and $3 million. None of this was happening in a vacuum: with Musk on the hook for upwards of $1 billion in annual interest charges alone, he needed to move aggressively to reduce costs across the board.
The cost-reduction drive included significant cuts to employee ranks, as well, including senior leaders with deep experience building and running the company’s infrastructure, and front-line engineers responsible for keeping the lights on.
Multiple rounds of layoffs and at least one mass wave of resignations have dropped headcount to an estimated 2,000 from its pre-acquisition high of approximately 7,500. Of those left, only 550 are full-time engineers, leading to concerns that the company is spread too thin to properly keep its infrastructure operational. While Musk has brought in staff from his other companies, including SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company, and Neuralink, they lack the critical institutional knowledge that Twitter has lost since October.
THE BROADER LESSON
While no one doubts that Twitter is, first and foremost, a business that must generate more revenue than it spends, its slash-and-burn approach to resourcing has left it vulnerable to spikes in traffic, cyberattacks, and other routine challenges of delivering online services.
Musk’s near-term goal of cutting costs and gaining some critically needed fiscal breathing room has come at the expense of a palpable erosion in robustness across the platform. Post-takeover Twitter has become a landscape where an ongoing litany of seemingly small errors and anomalies contributes to a slowly growing fear of a more profound collapse.
If end-users can’t trust the platform, then the door is open to further erosion as ongoing service reductions continue to chip away at the robustness and reliability of the service. It also telegraphs a message to advertisers that they can’t rely on the platform to effectively build brand and connect them with prospects. Standard Media Index Data suggests ad revenue plummeted 71% in December 2022. A growing wave of spurious error messages won’t reassure advertisers that they should return to the fold.
Twitter should be lauded for getting its fiscal house in order. It’s fair to say its pre-acquisition leadership could have done a better job reining in unnecessary spending and aligning project investments with projected revenues. But tightening the financial ship should never come at the expense of basic operations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Twitter’s current challenge to simultaneously control costs and maintain sufficient uptime and customer-facing quality of service highlights the tenuous balancing act that all businesses of any type now face: Keep the lights on but do so affordably and sustainably. Cut too deep and run the risk of compromising the very capabilities that drive revenues in the first place.
Technology infrastructure such as servers, data centers, and contracts with cloud providers and networking companies may not represent the shiniest objects in the company toolkit, but they are critical to the survival of any organization – not just Twitter.
Closer to home, STEP Software may have software in its name, but we’ve long realized that great software needs the right infrastructure – designed, implemented, and maintained – to properly serve the business. We actively manage our own network infrastructure to ensure our clients’ needs are met, and we often provide guidance on infrastructure best practices to ensure the software projects we deliver will remain viable over time.
Twitter’s experience should be a warning to us all: we ignore proper infrastructure resourcing and implementation at our peril – and put the future of our business at risk if we fail to pay attention to the basic aspects of everyday technology maintenance. If you’d like to discuss your own infrastructure roadmap and how it can help grow your business, let us know.