It’s not nearly on the same scale as Google’s outage earlier today, but it turns out that Microsoft’s Outlook email service has been having problems, too.
Readers are reporting to us, and an update on Microsoft’s site status for its various Office services confirms, that some Outlook users may not be able to sign in and use their email on Outlook.com because of a glitch in its Active Directory infrastructure.
Microsoft has responded to our request for comment confirming that the outage is affecting users in Europe and that the workaround is to… reload the page (which must be the internet equivalent of “turn it off and on again and see if that fixes it”).
“We are addressing an issue that is intermittently preventing a very small subset of European customers accessing Outlook email,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. “If the user retries the operation, they will be able to access.”
It is not clear how many users are affected but it is definitely not all of them. (I logged in with no problem to my account here in England.)
“We believe that a section of infrastructure within our Active Directory (AD) systems is causing impact,” engineers wrote in a post for Outlook services on its status update page that’s been up for at least an hour now. “We’re analyzing the errors being generated to help us confirm this.” The page indicates that other services like Skype, OneDrive and Teams are all working fine.
While Google’s outage appeared total but started to get fixed seemingly as suddenly as it arrived (the total outage lasted for around an hour, all told), Microsoft’s issues appear to have been ongoing for at least six hours, but possibly even longer in terms of reported incidents, according to DownDetector statistics. The site noted that most of the issues, over 80%, were at login.
Microsoft’s Outlook, which is in essence a combination of its Outlook desktop and web email service with its legacy Hotmail web-only product and has become a central way for consumers to log into all of Microsoft’s web-based services, was a clear early mover in the world of web-based (and thus cloud-based) email, a market that it used to dominate.
However, the launch of Google’s Gmail hit a chord with users who liked its fast speed, pared-down interface and general success in weeding out junk and spam, and it soon overtook its older competitor. In 2019, Outlook was estimated to have about 400 million users, compared to the 1.5 billion or so accounts on Gmail.
That still doesn’t mean an outage doesn’t have an impact. Microsoft’s last outage that affected multiple services was in September, when Outlook, Teams and Office were among the services that crashed due to an authentication glitch. Coincidentally, some believe that authentication is at the heart of Google’s problems today.
The incidents at Google and Microsoft will undoubtedly get resolved, but they still highlight a critical issue.
They underscore some of the fragility — and ultimate precariousness — of having so much of our communications, our data and our lives tied up in a handful of proprietary cloud-based networks. When they go down, especially at a time when we are living in a virtual way more than ever before because of the health pandemic, the consequences are felt ever more heavily.
We have contacted Microsoft for comment and will update this post as we learn more.