Microsoft acknowledged the problem at 9:45 p.m., and said users may have also have had trouble accessing their files on its SkyDrive storage service and its Windows Live applications, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in Office Live.
"If you've been trying to use Hotmail, SkyDrive, or our other Live properties in the last couple of hours you may have noticed problems accessing our services. We're aware of these issues and actively working to resolve them. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience," said Chris Jones, author of the blog, Inside Windows Live, which focuses on the engineering behind Hotmail, Messenger, SkyDrive and Windows Live.
About two hours later at 11:49 p.m., he updated readers that Microsoft had changed its Domain Name Service configurations and was having them propagated by the DNS system around the world to restore full service. "Depending on your location you may still experience issues over the next 30 minutes as the changes make their way through the network. Thank you for your patience as we have worked to address these issues," he wrote.
Meanwhile, Hotmail users around the world started posting comments to indicate whether they had service. Comments poured into DownRightNow and Jone's blog that Hotmail wasn't working in London, New York, or New Orleans. At roughly the same time, frustrated users in East Lansing, Mich., Paris, France, Brandenburg, Germany and Sakushima, Japan, added similar observations. More comments came from northwest Florida, southwest Indiana, northwest Ohio, India, El Salvador, and Australia.
Jones urged patience as the notice of DNS configuration changes was posted to his blog at 11:02 p.m. Pacific.
"Still not working in Canada. Time to start thinking about another email provider," came a response from one user.
But a half hour later, various Hotmail subscribers around the world began reporting they had their service back.
At 7:50 a.m. Pacific, a user in Miami said he could access Hotmail with one account but not another. "I get the response that 'Mail server pop3.live.com responded: authentication server unavailable, please try later.' Seems to me that SOME authentication servers are off-line or malfunctioning," he wrote to Jones.
As other users continued to report a return to service, the Miami user reappeared 50 minutes later to say he still had no access. "I Wonder if anyone from microsoft is actually reading this blog. Cloud shmoud ... last thing in the world for me ... "
A chart built by DownRightNow, based on its visitor's comments, indicated that Hotmail service problems lasted around six hours, with "a likely service disruption" going on from 7:30 p.m. Pacific Sept. 8 through 1:30 a.m. Pacific Sept. 9. Spikes of trouble appear on the chart for 1 to 2 hours more after that.
Microsoft spokesmen were unavailable to comment on the service problems. Microsoft previously experienced cloud service problems in March and November of 2009, but in general has maintained high availability and fast response times with Hotmail and other services. In January, an error in a script during testing lead to an outage for 17,355 accounts.
The day before the Hotmail outage, Google suffered an outage of its Google Docs and other services.
Amazon Web Services set of cloud services suffered a longer outage earlier this year.
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