KeyChest Blog

Let's Encrypt - 1bln, Time To Beat Others On Uptime

Feb 28, 2020 8:17:16 AM / by Dan

So Let's Encrypt issued a billionth certificate yesterday. It is an absolutely amazing number and I'm pretty sure no-one would have thought 5 years ago that any single CA can ever achieve this number.

 

It reminds me of YouTube - who would have thought that it's possible for a single video to be viewed more than 4 billion times - why would we need a counter bigger than 32 bits. Well, here we go. Well done to all at Let's Encrypt as well as their technical advisors who made sure that this will keep running and remain secure!

The press release also mentions the size of Let's Encrypt and its fairly modest budget of less than $3 mln. My take from that is that you can run a company with a core business based on an API very efficiently indeed.

UpTime Against Infrastructure

But it's not been all roses and there is one thing that Let's Encrypt can get even better at - reliability. It's not so much about the actual software, but the infrastructure around that ensures that its service is reliably delivered to users all around the globe.

Issues related to the infrastructure have been the main cause of downtimes and for example a switch to a new CDN provider in 2019 didn't go quite to the plan.

Disruptions - First Number

I used the same source as the first time - https://letsencrypt.status.io. The records seem to be fairly reliable. However, it appears that on several occasions the time of an incident starts when a report is received rather than the time potentially provided by the reporting party.

The history of the Let's Encrypt status over the last 12 months (20 Nov 2018 to 20 Nov 2019) contains 95 records, from which 77 relate to the production services. I ignore non-core services, e.g., web site.

Planned Upgrades

When you look at the Let's Encrypt status history, you will immediately notice a fairly large number of upgrades. There is in fact 46 Boulder upgrades, which sounds like an incredibly high number.

Planned upgrades of Let's Encrypt production services. Multiple upgrades per month are stacked.

Figure: Planned upgrades of Let's Encrypt production services. Multiple upgrades per month are stacked.

As far as I could see, none of them caused any downtime and my main observation is that while the total number is surprisingly high, the team has certainly mastered the upgrade process and is able to quickly react to potential incidents. Below is a similar graph from 2017. While the number of upgrades is similar, it is clear that the time required for each upgrade as stabilised. Which means much better reliability of upgrades.

Full Disruptions

The most important aspect, from users' point of view, is the probability of full service disruptions. This directly impacts the overall reliability of certification services and it is one of the main selling points for commercial CAs. Many of them like to quote their 99.99% or higher uptime.

Let's Encrypt has significantly improved over the last 2 years in terms of the number of incidents. Although it's still quite some distance behind commercial CAs (although they don't publish their incident data).

 

You can see that the length of downtimes is relatively short. These include at least 3 instances of downtime related to maintenance - one infrastructure and two on the application level. The overall uptime in 2019 is 99.92%, which is better than the figure I found in 2017 (99.86 - with 99.9% over the second part of the interval analyzed then) - see below.

Full Disruptions in minutes (logarithmic scale).

Figure: Full Disruptions in minutes (logarithmic scale).

The 2019 incidents include a couple of issues with OCSP responder. This is a fairly critical part of the LE services as it may result in unavailability of websites if browsers require OCSP validations.

Partial Disruptions

Partial disruptions occur when most of the Let's Encrypt services work but some components are unavailable. Data for these incidents are less transparent as the comparison is very blunt and lacks the detail of the impact of particular incidents. Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised that the downtime was still relatively high compared to 2017.

Partial Disruptions of Let's Encrypt in 2019. Multiple incidents per month are stacked.

Figure: Partial Disruptions of Let's Encrypt in 2019. Multiple incidents per month are stacked.

The combined uptime figure (all services fully functional) is only 96.4%, which is lower than what I found in 2017, when the figure stood at 98% (again, the 2017 chart is below).

It's worth mentioning that the 2019 results are significantly affected by a couple of incidents that lasted several days. One of them was caused by a migration to another CDN (details provided by "_az"). If we exclude one of both of these partial outages, the uptime is 97.9% and 99.7% respectively.

OCSP

I have not charted OCSP outages separately for two reasons. Firstly, I can see only two of them (one full, one partial). Secondly, these outages where short - 5 and 7 minutes and it's not clear to me whether they cover the whole outage or whether the measured interval starts only when the LE team started investigating it.

If we assume the logged times are accurate, the overall uptime of OCSP responders would be >99.99%.

It's All Downhill From Here ... Well Done!

LE's main feature is automation. While we generally don't mind if a certificate is renewed today or a week later, the relatively low uptime is a concern. Especially as there are no official service level guarantees.

This "exercise" made me also wonder whether it makes sense to implement an uptime monitoring system that would provide an independent uptime data. LE issues around 1.3 million certificates a day so every one minute downtime impacts over 900 certificate requests. Similarly, 1 minute downtime of OCSP responders is significant as 50-60% of websites use Let's Encrypt certificates. Arguably, these websites will not include any of the large one but still.

This analysis was created by Dan Cvrcek, a founder of KeyChest - TLS expiry monitoring service with a global database of all certificates and automation of certificate issuance.

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Tags: letsencrypt

Dan

Written by Dan