MSN Messenger fails for more than 10 million users

On the day that Microsoft announced its MSN Messenger service had surpassed America Online Inc.’s ICQ application in Canada a third of the popular free instant messaging service’s users were unable to get access.

Microsoft Corp. admitted Thursday that a hardware failure had crippled parts of its instant messaging service, cutting off all or part of the service to nearly one third of its customers around the world.

MSN Messenger is Microsoft’s free instant messaging software and is used by 31.9 million people worldwide, according to research firm Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. As early as Wednesday some users reported being unable to log on to the system, or had lost access to their personal contacts, or “buddy” list. The service was still unavailable to many users as of Thursday afternoon.

However, when contacted by IT World Canada on Wednesday a spokesperson for MSN.CA was reluctant to admit there was a problem.

“It appears there was an issue with one of the clusters on one of the servers for a few hours [Wednesday],” the spokesperson said. “It just affected an isolated number of accounts,” the spokesperson added, pointing out that their access to the service was working fine.

“In this case, an extremely rare set of circumstances occurred when one of our database servers had a disk controller fail,” Sarah Lefko, MSN product manager, said in a statement. “The backup for this controller also had an error occur which resulted in it not being able to fix this issue immediately, resulting in the current situation.”

The company refuted reports that the outage was related to its Passport authentication service, a service that its e-mail customers use to log on to Microsoft services and other Web sites. “The issue is hardware-related and MSN is now working closely with our vendors and taking appropriate steps on the back-end to resolve the issue and restore service to all MSN users worldwide,” Lefko said.

Microsoft has said it will include a more advanced version of the Messenger product with its new operating system, Windows XP that is to be released on Oct. 25. Called Windows Messenger, the application will come with text, video and audio messaging capabilities.

While many users have lost access to their buddy lists, Microsoft said the information has not been lost. “When the issue is resolved customers’ personal buddy lists will be restored,” Lefko said in the statement. “There is no need for users to take any action to restore their personal buddy lists.”

Microsoft would not speculate on when the hardware problems would be fixed, noting only that it is “taking action to resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

Earlier, MSN.CA announced its Messenger Service had surpassed America Online Inc.’s ICQ based on research conducted by Media Metrix Canada. It reported that MSN Messenger Service had more than doubled the number of “unique” Canadian users since 2000 for a total of 5.3 million. According to the study’s information, nearly 39 per cent of Canadians who are on the Internet have used MSN Messenger since it was launched in July 1999.

– With files from Matt Berger, IDG News Service.Microsoft Canada, in Mississauga, Ont., is available at is at