MSN Messenger Hit by IM Disruptions

Microsoft attributes outage to failure of disk controller, estimates one-third of users lost service

With many of Microsoft Corp.s future Web services initiatives riding on instant messaging technology, nearly a week of service disruptions on Microsofts MSN Messenger service was the last thing the company needed.

But thats exactly what it got as MSN Messenger experienced service outages and disruptions during much of the first week of this month. Many users had no access to their accounts or found their buddy lists obliterated.

Microsoft officials attributed the service outage to the failure of a disk controller on an MSN Messenger database server. "This was a very rare occurrence, where a disk controller failed and the backup system for that controller also had an error and failed," said Sarah Lefko, MSN product manager, in Redmond, Wash.

An additional backup system allowed Microsoft to restore the service, although the process was time-consuming.

At least 10 million MSN Messenger users, or approximately one-third of all MSN Messenger users, were estimated to have lost service, according to Microsoft.

There have been no reports yet that the outage affected the IM (instant messaging) client within Microsofts Exchange messaging suite. A Microsoft spokeswoman said that although the same MSN client is used within Exchange, its a separate service and has not been affected.

Users of the service and analysts alike said that such an outage was part of the "growing pains" associated with new technology but also showed the importance that IM has in the enterprise.

"Two years ago, would we have seen much media attention and uproar about a down IM network? I dont think so," said Matt Cain, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Instant messaging has come into its own for both business and consumers to the point that an outage becomes a very unwelcome exercise for a lot of people."

Most customers of FaceTime Communications, a Foster City, Calif., company that develops IM-based customer service applications that use Microsoft and other IM networks, were not affected by the outage.

Thats because 90 percent of the FaceTime customer base uses America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Messenger clients and networks in conjunction with MSN Messenger, according to Mehdi Maghsoodnia, senior vice president of products and services for FaceTime.

"We encourage our customers to use all three networks for proper redundancy," Maghsoodnia said. "Its a best-practices issue."

IM figures to become a much bigger part of peoples lives in the future, in large part because of Microsoft initiatives such as HailStorm.

"Clearly, instant messaging is crucial for the long-term success of what Microsoft has planned around HailStorm and Web services in general," Meta Groups Cain said.