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Exchange Online Outage: A Failure to Notify- Office 365 Monitoring

  • Exchange Online failure follows Lync Online failure just the day before 
  • Customers and administrators frustrated by poor communication from Microsoft
  • Reinforces the importance of conducting your own monitoring of online services

One of the important things service professionals learn in customer expectation management class is that if you call a customer to inform them of a bad situation, it stops being so bad.  If they have to call you, it’s a disaster.

A classic example of this lesson in action occurred on June 24, 2014 when the following notice was quietly issued by Microsoft:

Current Status: Engineers have identified an issue in which a portion of capacity that facilitates connectivity to Exchange Online services has entered into a degraded state.

Customer Impact: Affected customers may experience an issue when trying to access some Exchange Online services.

Incident Start Time: Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at 1:11 PM UTC

Next Update: Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at 2:45 PM UTC

Later, an update:

"Some users in North America are experiencing issues with Lync Online due to network routing infrastructure issues. In response, engineers have routed a portion of network traffic to an alternate datacenter which has restored service for some of our customers. We are committed to fixing this issue as quickly as possible and expect the service to be restored for all customers soon. Customers can get the latest Lync Online status through the admin Service Health Dashboard."

Even later, recognizing that the word was not getting out fast enough, the official Office 365 Twitter account tweeted that Microsoft was aware of the issue and that engineers were working on it, again recommending that customers consult the Service Health Dashboard (SHD).

SHD Not a Solution!

Users on the Office 365 Help Community Forum complained early on in the outage that the SHD had no notifications of any problem.  One of the key problems was that the only people who could see the SHD were system administrators.  Contrary to what the Microsoft tweets and bulletins suggested, the typical customer could not consult the SHD at all.  Even if they did, the administrators report that the information provided there was not very useful.

Coming on the heels of a Lync Online outage just the day before, customer reactions ranged from those who said that outages are to be expected, as long as they are kept informed of the status of restoration they’re okay, to those who referred to Exchange Online as ExchangeOffline and at least one Twitter user who asked “should we now call Office 365, Office 364?”

One forum participant perhaps summed it up best when they posted:

“We are a government contractor outside of Washington, DC. Approximately 80% of our business is done through email, and a follow up call if necessary.  5 1/2 hours now with no email. Does Microsoft consider this a catastrophic event? We now do. And there's nothing coming from Microsoft except "we're working on it." We know that! Didn't the Lync problems tell you guys anything yesterday!”

Keeping Your Users Informed

Every system administrator knows that it is their responsibility to keep their own user community informed during any service outage, so many who depended upon the Microsoft SHD and other channels for updates were beyond dismayed at the lack of updated information.

This underscores the importance of maintaining your own vigilance over the services your IT organization consumes.  Especially as we all become more and more dependent upon cloud-sourced services it becomes incumbent upon us to establish our own monitoring of those services both to provide us with early warning of impending or occurring outages, and to help us keep our providers honest when it comes to performance reporting.  When they commit to a Quality of Service (QoS) we need to hold their feet to the fire about keeping that commitment.

Mailscape for Exchange Online

Many organizations are choosing to use a mix of on-premise Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 to meet their staff's messaging needs. Hybrid deployments often have several moving parts that need to be monitored in order to ensure reliable messaging and calendaring services. Gaining visibility into the cloud is a challenge with limited reporting tools available.  One tool that is uniquely designed to help you monitor and manage in just this kind of situation is Mailscape for Exchange Online from ENow Software, the Exchange Online Monitoring and Reporting Tool

Not the First Time.  Not the Last.

This is not the first time the Office 365 suite has experienced outages, and it’s likely that it won’t be the last.  When you can notify your users early on about an incident in progress, and when your own reporting helps you keep those users up to date on progress toward restoration of service, you have created an environment that is a cut above the rest.  Your users and your management will appreciate it.

To learn more about Mailscape for Exchange Online, the monitoring and reporting system that would have kept you ahead of the recent Microsoft outages and helped you keep your users informed, contact ENow Software at www.enowsoftware.com