Microsoft experienced a handful of embarrassing problems with the latest version of Hotmail, as Ted Samson chronicled in InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog yesterday. The problems persist to this day. When I read Samson's summary, I couldn't help but wonder what went wrong -- and how cloud services aren't supposed to have these problems.
Microsoft took almost two months to roll out the new Hotmail. As Mike Schackwitz explained on the Windows Live blog, Microsoft started rolling out the new version on June 15. "Hotmail servers are grouped into clusters, and we have hundreds of clusters. We start by upgrading a single cluster, wait to make sure that it's running smoothly and that we didn't miss anything during testing, and then we continue on to the next cluster. If we find a bug, we'll fix it before continuing further, and give that fix to everybody who has been upgraded so far."
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Apparently the rollout didn't go very smoothly. According to the Windows Live blog, Microsoft didn't switch over the final cluster until August 3, seven weeks later.
Why did it take so long?
It couldn't have been a hardware problem. After all, these are captive servers -- Microsoft owns and operates, preens and prods, and patches them -- and presumably many of the best and brightest Microsofties worked around the clock to get the job done. Seven weeks?
What about compatibility problems? Hotmail lives in a comparatively well-defined world. The universe of Web browsers is reasonably finite. Testing changes to a cloud application can't hold a candle to regression testing Windows, for example, or Office -- yet Microsoft pumps out fixes to both on a monthly basis.