Xbox Live Service Suffers 11-Day Outage

If Microsoft wants to rev up the online business generated from its Live strategy, it didn’t engender a lot of confidence among customers in recent weeks. The Xbox Live online service suffered outages and intermittent service for almost two weeks and even the Zune marketplace shut down temporarily.

The outage began Dec. 22 — the Saturday before the week of Christmas — and continued through the end of the year.

High traffic levels seem a likely suspect for the problems, which may have been exacerbated by high traffic stemming from new users beginning on Christmas Day.

Online analytics site Hitwise reported that the site received a 299 percent boost in traffic on Dec. 25, 2007, compared with Dec. 25, 2006.

New Zune users must connect to the Zune site before they can access the device’s online song store, so this would seem to indicate healthy sales for the digital music player — and unprecedented traffic levels for the Live system to contend with.

For some end users, things were less than rosy. Not helping was a similar rush of new Xbox 360 customers logging onto Xbox Live, although details on the number of Xbox users are harder to come by than with Zune.

At any rate, with Xbox 360 owners signing up and joining Zune users on Microsoft’s Live services, evidently it made a bad situation worse.

It’s still unclear on precisely what went wrong. A blog posting from Larry Hyrb, director of programming for Xbox Live, was almost comical in that the Dec. 24 update promising a fix was crossed out and replaced with one on Dec. 28 — which in turn was replaced with a Dec. 29 update.

In his series of updates, Hyrb, who goes by the username “Major Nelson,” wrote that part of the problem stemmed from so many essential staffers being on their holiday break when the outage occurred.

That struck analyst Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group as a poor excuse.

“This is a firm that sells enterprise-class products and should know better,” he told “Typically, they are ready for a problem like this. This is not something that typically happens with them.”

Microsoft declined to comment beyond Hyrb’s blog postings.

Reaction on gaming sites and blogs has been a mix of foot-stomping and more reasoned “get over it” responses. Enderle figures Microsoft can foul up like this once and escape unscathed.

But if it happens again, it will damage the company’s credibility with its Live initiative, he said.

“If it’s a recurring event, it would kill them,” he said. “Typically, the market will allow you to have a problem like this once in a long while. If it becomes a recurring problem, then you won’t get folks to adopt it.”

With Microsoft introducing more and more services dependent on Live, that means even greater pressure facing the company to avoid dropping the ball again. Microsoft for some time has been selling movies, TV shows and video games to Live-connected Xbox 360 users.

There are also persistent rumors about IPTV or Digital Video Recorder functionality making their ways into Live-enabled Xbox 360s.

Even should the problems be a thing of the past, Microsoft’s Zune team, despite managing to record massive traffic growth during the crisis, may still not have cause for celebration.

Hitwise estimates the total market share of visits for reached 0.09 percent on Christmas Day — well behind the 0.68 percent captured by Apple’s market-leading iTunes store. The Christmas Day 2007 traffic for iTunes was up 339 percent over Dec. 25, 2006, according to Hitwise.

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