Apparently even in 2012, computer systems can have problems with the idea that February sometimes has 29 days. Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform suffered a massive outage yesterday because of problems that occurred from the rare date. Even the UK government found itself without service.
Microsoft officially called it a "software bug," and acknowledged the problem yesterday afternoon. It wasn't a complete 100% outage all day, but apparently some processes were unable to operate because of problems with the internal coding.
"Once we discovered the issue we immediately took steps to protect customer services that were already up and running, and began creating a fix for the issue. The fix was successfully deployed to most of the Windows Azure sub-regions and we restored Windows Azure service availability to the majority of our customers and services by 2:57AM PST, Feb 29th," said Microsoft VP Bill Laing.
This isn't the first time that Leap Year issues have caused a problem. A couple years ago, Sony's Playstation 3 was knocked offline because there were internal systems that became confused at the end of February.
In the same way that if you have one Christmas light that's busted, the entire string of lights won't work, even if one process in a computer application doesn't recognize Leap Year or has a conflict on what to do on the day after February 28, it can cause a catastrophic crash.
The problem also highlights one of the biggest concerns in cloud computing, which is that if something happens to a server that you have no control over, you're out of luck. If you have a local machine, though, you have complete control over your files and operations.