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Datacenter fire takes out South Korea's top two web giants

Sub-par disaster recovery plans leave Naver and Kakao with savage service interruptions

South Korea's two largest domestic internet companies, Naver and Kakao, have experienced significant service interruptions after the datacenter that hosts much of their infrastructure was shut down by a Sunday fire.

The datacenter in question is operated by SK C&C, one of the many arms of South Korean conglomerate SK. SK C&C offers a range of cloud and tech infrastructure services, bills itself as a "total digital transformation partner" and operates three datacenters, in which it happily houses client systems.

The one in Pangyo, just south of South Korea's capital Seoul, was built in 2014, covers 66,942 square meters, and boasts what SK C&C describes as "Latest/eco-friendly technology". And it caught fire on the weekend.

The company has not said what cause the facility to catch fire, nor the extent of the blaze.

The Register has asked SK C&C to comment on reports in Korean media that the blaze started on Saturday afternoon, with dire consequences for local web giants Naver and Kakao.

Neither service is big outside South Korea, but that's how locals like it. The country takes a certain pride in the fact that Naver beat Google at its own game and that Kakao's messenger service remains more popular than Facebook's. Both companies have also added myriad other services such as voice comms, e-commerce, transport, gaming, portals, and financial services.

South Korean citizens and businesses assume those services will be available in the same way that Reg readers expect their apps and online services to just work 24/7.

But many services from Kakao and Naver were unavailable for many hours at a time, starting from Saturday afternoon.

Impact of the outages was wide. The tweet below is an example of one business's reaction:

Kakao has acknowledged the outage in a blog post that apologizes for the service interruption and slow restoration, and admits that disaster recovery efforts were delayed. The company has created an Emergency Response Committee and three sub-committees – one to probe the cause of the incident, another to develop disaster countermeasures, and a third to arrange compensation for stakeholders.

Naver's announcement admits that "some functions such as search, news, shopping, cafe, blog, open talk, and smart store center had errors." The company says all services have now been restored.

The incident has highlighted South Korea's dependence on its local web heroes. Reports indicated that the office of South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol even suggested that the disturbance constituted a threat to national security.

Lee Jong-ho, minister for science and ICT, has been tasked by the president with overseeing crisis management for the incident. He's quoted as saying "The government is looking at the situation seriously as [the meltdown] has raised concerns about the possibility of our society and economy being paralyzed."

Kakao has come off the worse of the two companies, as it appears to have had fragile disaster recovery plans. The incident also came before Kakao could complete its own datacenters, which are under construction and expected to be operational in 2023. Naver already operates one datacenter of its own and has another one planned for next year.

SK C&C and its parent company, however, appear not to have said a word in public about the incident. ®

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