Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bing Travel Outage a Real Downer

As of this writing, Bing Travel (a.k.a. Farecast) has been down for almost a day-and-a half.

Various news reports, including this one, indicate a fire in a downtown Seattle data center, probably caused by a blown transformer, took down Bing Travel and a host of other nontravel websites.

A photo depicts an unidentified person from one of the impacted websites hauling a server out the door of Fisher Plaza, the site of the fire.

A notice on stated:

Sorry, Bing Travel is currently unavailable

A fire occurred at Fisher Plaza in downtown Seattle just after midnight on Friday morning, July 3. A blown transformer knocked out power to the entire building, which is home to the Bing Travel servers. This is isolated to Bing Travel only, and there has been no impact to any other aspects of Bing. We're hard at work to restore service following this unexpected event and appreciate your patience.

In the meantime, you may use Microsoft's travel partner, Orbitz, for your travel needs.

The usual travel link on the Bing homepage was removed, but the outage seemingly doesn't impact other services on Microsoft's new search engine (excuse me, "decision engine"), Bing.

The Bing Travel outage, however, does impact Bing's slew of travel industry partners, including technology providers, airlines and hotels, and certainly won't inspire consumer confidence.

However, the reputation hit may be short-lived. After all, there are few customer service issues involved because Bing Travel, as a metasearch site, is not a travel agency and doesn't book any travel.

There's no further detail yet from Bing Travel about what happened and why a back-up system, if there was one, didn't kick in. Bing Travel is a relatively small company, but Microsoft would certainly have the monies and resources to power a solution for such outages.

There will be lessons learned from this fiasco about data center security and redundancy. Many large travel companies, including Amadeus, have back-up data centers. Amadeus's data center is located in Erding, Germany, and a clone of that one is positioned 30 kilometers away.

TechFlash reported that a fire occurred at the same data center in June 2008, and a Redfin official outlined some of the steps the company took to avoid what author James Baldwin might have characterized as "The Fire Next Time."

Especially since 9/11, data center security is paramount.

Meanwhile, it was interesting this morning that a Google search for Bing Travel retrieved Bing Travel's outage announcement as the top organic result.

Conversely, a Bing search for Bing Travel produced no word of the Bing Travel unavailability, at least on the first page of results.

And, the second-highest Sponsored Link in a Google search for Bing Travel was from Kayak, which reportedly has accused Microsoft of copying Kayak's look and feel.

The other day there was a Twitter debate about whether some of the underlying technologies that help make Bing Travel and Kayak go dictate the allegedly similar GUI. I'm no expert on that question, but I tend to doubt it.

Both metasearch sites use ITA Software to power the bulk of their air searches so they can largely avoid scraping airline websites.

And, both Bing Travel and Kayak count Orbitz as a key online travel agency partner.

No, for conspiracy theorists out there, I don't think the Bing Travel outage was the result of a foray by a Kayak hit team.

Seriously, Kayak and Bing Travel, while ardent competitors, have a lot of respect for one another and both have great products.

I was just about to write that both Kayak and Bing have great tech teams, too. Well, for Bing Travel this weekend, the jury has to be out on that question.

1 comment:

West Coast Fliesses said...

Back up finally. There's a case study to be written here in the need for server redundancy / disaster recovery. At least it happened on a holiday weekend, which I assume means a seasonal dip in traffic for them.