Office 365 woes

Office 365 went partly offline yesterday, though Microsoft isn’t being too forthcoming with details.

Yesterday, 17 August, there were problems with Office 365 and Dynamics CRM, among other Microsoft online services. Some users connected to the North America servers could not access their email or manage accounts for much of the US working day. There were Skydrive outages too.

By 6pm US Eastern time the server troubles were fixed. There are no reports of lost data though access to emails was delayed by many hours.

Failures of these large cloud systems always get headlines. It’s happened to Google in the past and on those occasions Microsoft has been quick to gloat. Redmond has never heard the story about people in glass houses.

We’d love to bash Microsoft about the Office 365 outage but in reality any online service is going to have problems, especially in the early stages of development and growth.

All we can do is note Microsoft’s attempts to downplay the problem with non-specific public announcements and weasel words. We’re told ‘a few customers experiencing difficulty’ … how many is ‘a few’ and for most people not being able to access your work email is more than a ‘difficulty’. Redmond also talks of ‘a networking issue affecting customers of some Microsoft services’ without saying which services were affected.

Microsoft’s credibility would be helped by some more forthright and timely acknowledgment of problems. They might be able to get away with hiding bugs in software but it’s harder to do that with outages in real time services.

While organizations with their own ‘in house’ systems were not affected, the chances are good they have their own support problems. Those problems can be costly to fix.

A cloud service failure is annoying and costly leaving users feel somewhat helpless since there’s little they can do except wait for the problem to be fixed. On the other hand, there are no additional support costs or hassles getting technicians on site. Microsoft and other providers should have redundancy and backup systems that would be prohibitively expensive for most organizations to replicate.

Cloud services have their advantages but they aren’t perfect. Both Microsoft and customers will have to get used to that.