The United States Postal Service has devoted significant resources to providing customers with reliable online services including web APIs for address and delivery information, rate calculators, shipping labels and carrier pickup. But apparently this holiday season their web service customers were met with something they did not want to see: a series of extended outages during the second week of December left customers helplessly awaiting a return of service.
One developer spent time debugging his own eCommerce software for a client, only to discover that the problem was the USPS shipping servers being unavailable. Another developer, John Crawford, in his post US Postal Service API suffers massive outage, described a long series of outages followed by brief reappearances of viable service. On December 10, Lisa Bowes saw an alert posted on the main USPS site:
ALERT: Online Systems Interruptions
The situation was eventually resolved: the alert Lisa Bowes reported is no longer readily findable on the USPS site and a call to the 1-800-344-7779 web customer service line (on which John earlier heard a message that sounded like "movies after the apocalypse") now presents the caller with a standard automated phone service menu.
The intermittent nature of the issue made a few folks suspect that the outage was load related. If so, this outage illustrates one of the most difficult aspects of running a Web-based business: scaling and load management. Whether your organization is huge or small, Web access can produce large spikes in visitors and API requests. Scalability issues can strike in diverse areas, including hardware, database access, and the scalability of the software itself.
We may never know what took down the US Postal Service API service this holiday season, although hopefully the USPS will be better prepared next year.