Bing Outage Due to System Error, Says Microsoft

Microsoft said that Bing's half hour of downtime on Dec. 3 was due to a system error. During the outage, users were either unable to access the search engine or else received incomplete results to search queries. The outage came a day after Microsoft announced new features for Bing, including updated Bing Maps and a visual search that integrates Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Microsoft's Bing search engine experienced about 30 minutes of downtime on the evening of Dec. 3, in what Redmond called a system error. During the outage, users were either unable to access the site or received incomplete search results.

"The cause of the outage was a configuration change during some internal testing that had unfortunate and unintended consequences," Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Services Division, wrote in a Dec. 3 posting on the official Bing blog. "As soon as the issue was detected, the change was rolled back, which caused the site to return to normal behavior."

Nadella claims that the site was down from 6:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. PST, although some commenters on both the official Bing blog and Twitter claim that the outage began a few minutes before that.

"We strive to maintain a high standard of operation excellence at Bing," Nadella added. "We are running a post mortem to find out how our software and processes need to be improved to prevent anything like this from happening again."

The outage came at an unfortunate moment for Bing, which had experienced an uptick in its public mindshare on Dec. 2 after Microsoft announced new features for the search engine, including updated Bing Maps and a Visual Search that integrated Facebook and Twitter feeds.

It was the second time in two months that Microsoft had updated Bing, which the company hopes will erode Google's dominant market share in the search engine space. At the moment, Bing occupies roughly 9.6 percent of the U.S. search engine market, according to a November research report by Experian Hitwise, while Google holds 70.6 percent.

November's updates to Bing included a video page with added feeds from Hulu, MSN Video, ABC and other content providers; the search engine also began displaying results from Wolfram Alpha, a computational engine designed to provide definitive, usually numerical answers in response to queries.

In what could be construed as an additional irony, an eWEEK analysis piece on the morning of Dec. 3 posited that Bing could gain market share if Google's search engine experienced repeated outages. Commenters on that article, in an amazing bit of prescience, suggested that server outages could also happen to Bing.

"It's not outside the realm of possibility that the servers managing [Bing's] core application could experience a system error that forces it offline either," one reader wrote. "There is nothing to prove that [Bing's] servers are any more reliable than [Google's]."