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Microsoft wants to link satellites to Azure – but it should probably fix its cloud first: Cooling outage hits UK COVID-19 portal, other sites

Equipment failure shuts down servers, networking, storage

Updated Microsoft is said to be eyeing up linking people to Azure via satellite – just as its cloud platform partially tripped over in the UK, derailing the country's coronavirus statistics page.

The Windows giant today advised customers that one of its southern UK Azure zones is right now offline, and has been for more than four hours, after one of its data center cooling systems failed. The breakdown began at 1400 UTC and, as the UK afternoon has turned to evening, techies are still working on getting everything sorted out and back up and running.

The outage is labeled as a connectivity failure, by which Microsoft means you can't connect to servers, storage, or networking because they've been switched off. Anything relying on those systems may fall over as well. The note to punters reads:

Starting at approximately 14:00 UTC on 14 Sep 2020, a single Zone in UK South has experienced a cooling failure. As a result, Storage, Networking and Compute resources were shut down as part of our automated processes to preserve the equipment and prevent damage. Services with downstream dependencies on these would also have experienced impact.

Engineers have restored cooling and related functionality in the impacted Zone, and it has returned to normal operating temperatures. We are working through the structured recovery program to restore each of the services that were shut down during this incident, and are prioritizing the core services of Compute, Storage and Networking to expedite recovery.

One of the sites that has felt the brunt of the outage is the UK government's COVID-19 information portal. The page right now tells Brits it has no statistics updates to provide on the pandemic because its Azure back-end has keeled over. "We are monitoring the situation closely and will update the website as soon as the services are restored," the government said.

And a spokesperson for Azure just told us: "We're working to resolve an issue that some customers in the UK may be experiencing."

This all goes on as Microsoft is said to be exploring the idea of providing connectivity to its Azure cloud via satellite links. A report from CNBC cites a filing Redmond submitted to America's comms watchdog, the FCC, last month to get into the field with a small tech demo.

Microsoft wants to use the Spanish satellite Deimos-2 to transfer data between two ground stations in its home state of Washington – one of which will be in its Azure data center in Quincy in the US state. It appears the IT giant wants to explore ways to beam data directly into and out of its cloud, such as feeding sensor readings into applications or rerouting connections if some disaster happens on the ground, we imagine.

This is all very much just a prototype affair for the time being. The connection, it is said, will largely function as a proof of concept rather than any sort of commercially viable service, at least at first. The plan would be for the satellite connection to be up and running for a demo at this month's Ignite conference, which is set to kick off on September 22.

By the way, Amazon hopes to burn an eye-watering $10bn on a satellite broadband internet service. The Bezos Bunch said it wants to launch 578 satellites to provide this connectivity to folks out in the sticks, with the long-term goal of getting that number up to 3,236. Amazon also operates AWS Ground Station, which lets customers fire data into Amazon's cloud via satellite communications. ®

Updated to add

Some 11 hours after the zone's cooling failed, Microsoft reckons it's sorted out the breakdown. "We have completed the recovery and consistency checks for the majority of Storage, Networking, and Compute resources," it told Azure subscribers in a note overnight. "Customers should have seen significant recovery by 00:41 UTC on 15 Sep 2020."

Sounds like that was a bit of a hard stop earlier.

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