Amazon’s EC2 cloud storage service experienced a significant outage today, grinding operations to a halt for many websites. The company cited “instance connectivity, latency and error rates” as the source of the problems that have hobbled sites like news aggregators Reddit and Quora. Many other sites including Foursquare and Hootsuite have suffered service problems as well.

“It’s unclear at this point what is causing the problem. The technical problems apparently happened at Amazon’s Virginia Elastic Compute Cloud center, according to Amazon’s status dashboard,” wrote Tomio Geron at Forbes.com.

A post at Slashdot, a site popular for aggregating “news for nerds,” corroborates reports that Amazon’s Virginia data center is the site of the outage.

The post reads: “The Northern Virginia data center for Amazon Web Services appears to be having a major outage that affects EC2 services. The Amazon forums are full of reports of problems. Latest update from the status page: 2:49 a.m. PDT. We are continuing to see connectivity errors impacting EC2 instances, increased latencies impacting EBS volumes in multiple availability zones in the US-EAST-1 region, and increased error rates affecting EBS CreateVolume API calls. We are also experiencing delayed launches for EBS backed EC2 instances in affected availability zones in the US-EAST-1 region. We continue to work towards resolution.”

Twitter is abuzz with news of the outage as well as reports from site owners notifying users of any service disruptions they are having.

Since its launch in 2006, Amazon EC2 has been one of cloud computing’s greatest success stories. The service “is core to Amazon's cloud computing platform and is often listed as a model for other such offerings,” wrote Shara Tibken of The Wall Street Journal. “It allows users to run programs and store information remotely, accessing the applications over the Internet and eliminating the cost of operating the equipment themselves.”

For the public sector, Amazon EC2 is being seen by some as a new opportunity for storing nonsensitive data. Some government agencies are already using cloud services from Amazon. Last year, for example, Scott County, Minn., moved its disaster recovery services to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud.

UPDATE: A U.S. Department of Energy website, http://www.openei.org, is also suffering from the EC2 outage, according to NextGov.com.

Chad Vander Veen  |  Associate Editor