Valve's Steam hit by power outage

Digital distribution shows its weakeness as data centre drops dead

13 Feb 2012

Valve's digital software distribution service Steam left gamers without connectivity last night as a power outage at the company's main data centre disconnected the servers for a period of several hours.

Taking down both the Steam servers and Valve's own website, the outage was investigated by the company's engineers and found to be the result of power problems at the central data centre responsible for running the Steam digital distribution service.

Somewhat ironically, the problem was eventually traced to the uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), battery backup units designed to provide power to data centre equipment in the event of mains power failure.

"Our data centre's uninterruptable power supplies experienced a power failure", an engineer explained on the company's downtime announcement page around two hours into the outage. "The power is back on now and we're working to get service restored as quickly as possible."

An hour later, "significant progress restoring availability" was announced, followed an hour after by reports that all servers were back up and running despite "a couple of lingering issues".

The downtime does highlight an issue with most common digital distribution services: because the software contacts the servers to verify that the software installed is legitimately licensed, outages such as this one can leave gamers unable to play titles they have purchased until the outage is over.

Although Steam and other platforms come with functionality for playing games without an internet connection, dubbed 'offline mode,' this typically needs to be activated while still connected to the official servers.

The Steam platform appears to be running fine again this morning.

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