Users of Microsoft's Web-based email services got a taste of one of the perils of cloud computing. Hotmail and Outlook.com suffered extended outages on March 12 and 13, casting into doubt the software giant's ability to negotiate its transition from a desktop and server software maker into a cloud services provider.
Less than a month after Microsoft celebrated a big Outlook.com milestone, technical issues brought the service to a halt. On Feb. 18, the company boasted that in just six short months, Outlook.com had become the "world's fastest growing email service."
In a blog post, Outlook.com director of product management David Law announced, "It's been just over six months since the Outlook.com preview released and the reception to date has greatly surpassed our expectations; over 60 million people [are] already actively using Outlook.com. This number represents people that sign in several times a month via the Web, client or smartphone to really use our service."
By Tuesday, March 12, many of those people were without access to their email accounts.
The outage couldn't have arrived at a worse time for Microsoft. The company has launched a splashy ad campaign for Outlook.com and scored the distinction of providing the official email address for AMC's "Talking Dead," the Q&A companion show for the cable TV hit, "The Walking Dead."
The bad publicity could also potentially slow SkyDrive adoption and undermine Microsoft's efforts to push its new cloud-enabled Office 365 offerings for consumers. Moreover, it could cast a harsh shadow on Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform.
Microsoft is spending big to compete with major cloud services rivals like Amazon Web Services and Google. Initiatives include new cloud-based mobile services and high-resolution video-streaming capabilities. The company is also currently in the midst of a major Azure data center expansion in Virginia to the tune of $348 million.
The trouble began on March 12 when reports of an outage began to surface. Microsoft confirmed the issue on the Live.com service status page at 5:35 p.m. "We're having a problem accessing email. You might not be able to see all your email messages. We're working to restore service right now," offered Microsoft.
The hours ticked by, and finally Microsoft gave the first indications that Hotmail and Outlook.com were hit with serious technical issues.
"Fixing the problem is taking longer than we hoped. We'll provide an update by Mar 13 5:12 a.m. We apologize for the lengthy interruption in service," reported Microsoft on March 13 at 1:13 a.m.
Meanwhile, SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, seemed to also fall prey to glitches. On March 12 at 6:41 p.m., Microsoft said, "SkyDrive is currently experiencing issues with adding, editing or removing files. You may also receive errors while publishing content with Windows Photo Gallery in an online album."
However, SkyDrive was pressed back into full service three hours later while Hotmail and Outlook.com were still down. Finally, by Wednesday, March 13, at 10:39 a.m., service was back to normal.