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Error message indicates that the Azure-hosted sites are experiencing a DNS disruption.

Windows Azure

A handful of Microsoft's online services, including, appear to be experiencing a global outage Thursday afternoon.

The outage, which Twitter users began reporting around 3 p.m., also affected and, other online services hosted by Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service. Error messages generated during attempts to visit the sites indicated it might be a DNS issue.

Service Unavailable - DNS failure

The server is temporarily unable to service your request. Please try again later.

Reference #11.83b302cc.1385076207.1118e9

The degree to which sites were affected appears to be varied. Some users also reported that TechNet, MSDN, and even were offline as well, but those sites were available to this reporter. At one point Thursday afternoon, every region around the world was experiencing "a full service interruption" to its storage services, according to Microsoft's Windows Azure Services Dashboard. But a later update on the dashboard indicated that the services were back to normal operation in each region.

Microsoft said in a tweet it was investigating the cause of the outage and would keep customers updated:

The Windows Azure storage service suffered a several-hours-long global outage in February when an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, used to securely authenticate the service, expired. That outage began on a Friday afternoon and lasted into early the next day.

The outage to comes just hours before the midnight launch of the long-awaited Xbox One, the $499 successor to the Xbox 360 gaming console, which debuted eight years ago. Microsoft is positioning the Xbox One as not just a gaming console but also the hub for living room entertainment.

In a challenge to Amazon's cloud service dominance, Microsoft has been making a push to boost Azure's presence over the past year. The company announced earlier this year that its Linux and Windows Server virtual machines on Windows Azure were available and ready for deployment. These give users a way to run existing Linux and Windows Server apps in the Azure cloud without having to completely rewrite them.

CNET has contacted Microsoft for more information and will update this report when we learn more.

Update, 4:06 p.m. PT to reflect services restored.