Broadband Reports posts about what happened:
So many people were waiting for the promotion that the entire Amazon website - not just the promotion page - sank without a trace from just before 2pm, to at least 2:12pm. The home page, the product pages, everything, were unavailable.Sounds familiar. When I was at Amazon, every year we in engineering would try to avoid spikes in traffic, especially around peak holiday loads, and every year marketing folks would want to run some promotion specifically designed to create a mad frenzy on the site. Usually, we convinced them to change the promotion, but apparently engineering lost (or was asleep at the switch) this year.
Broadband Reports goes on to point out that this reflects badly on Amazon:
We wonder how many amazon shoppers elsewhere in the site abandoned their purchases halfway through after they found their experience destroyed by the vote rush going on in the next room ... Some people got quite irate.I don't think it quite works that way. A DDoS attack, which this effectively was, can generate way over the x10 peak load for which the website would be designed. Even so, it still is pretty lame for Amazon to DDoS itself.
The poor performance of the amazon site during the giveaway also reflects badly on the Amazon "elastic compute cloud" offering (Amazon EC2) which is designed, supposedly, to offer instant capacity to companies which need to deal with exactly this kind of sudden rush.
It appears the contest is running again next week with the same structure. I wonder if Amazon will crash itself again?
Update: It appears Amazon is looking at changing the structure of this promotion to prevent another brownout. Currently, there is a message up that says, "Due to the popularity of Amazon Customers Vote, we are extending the Week 2 voting period. Customers who cast a vote will be sent an e-mail notification of the new sale date."
Update: Mike at TechDirt reports that "Amazon Cries 'Uncle' On Promotion Traffic" by changing the rules to prevent another outage.