February 05, 2001, 9:44 AM — Microsoft's Web site blackouts last week had IT executives questioning the company's ability to deliver on its promise of an Internet-based software world.
The software giant's Web sites, which provide services such as support and patches, were offline for almost 24 hours starting Tuesday afternoon. The outage was followed Thursday by a denial-of-service attack that kept the sites offline for half a day.
The attacks made it impossible for users to get information online. It also made users question the very systems Microsoft is encouraging them to build.
"These are the guys who are telling us how to build these systems. It's kind of scary," says Jeff Allred, manager of network services for the Duke University Cancer Center. "It was extremely frustrating. I was doing research for an article and I couldn't get anywhere on Microsoft's site."
The problem was linked to a configuration change made to a router in Microsoft's network. With the router down, users couldn't get to Microsoft's Domain Name System (DNS). DNS servers translate domain names into IP addresses. The IP addresses are used to locate servers on a network. Without DNS, Web surfers can't find Web sites. DNS is an Internet standard and the default routing system in Windows 2000.
What made IT executives doubly mad is it appears Microsoft made some rookie errors by hosting its four DNS servers on one network and not having a backup ready during the router configuration change.
"Systems go down all the time, but what doesn't happen all the time is 24 hours of, presumably, some of the brightest minds in the IT world grinding their teeth trying to figure out what happened and how to fix it," says Russ Cooper, editor of the NTBugTraq Web site. "If Microsoft wants us to believe they can teach us all how to build a digital infrastructure . . . they're going to have to belly up to the bar and help us understand what happened so we can try to ensure it never happens to us."
The outage comes at a time when Microsoft is trying to gain momentum for its .Net strategy, which is a platform for delivering software as a service over the 'Net. With last week's outage, any of those .Net services, such as hosted applications, would have been unavailable.
"I worry because they are tying so much together, especially Active Directory and DNS. What happens in three years when something similar happens? Will I be unable to log on to the Active Directory-managed DNS server because DNS is down? I hope Microsoft learns from this experience and codes in ways that will prevent a disaster," says Micah Cooper, network systems administrator for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Network World senior editor Deni Connor contributed to this report.