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Microsoft BPOS outage highlights need for hybrid strategy

Last week, Microsoft had a variety of outages related to its Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS). The uncertain nature of cloud service availability by even the most reliable of providers highlights the need for a hybrid strategy for maintaining continuous productivity without any downtime.

As discussed by Ed Bott at ZDNet, online services can never guarantee 100% uptime. Hardware or software failures can popup at any time bringing down a service for hours or days. In the case of Microsoft’s Online division, Dave Thompson, the division’s corporate vice-president, highlighted four different issues that affected the BPOS service last week:

  • On Tuesday at 9:30am PDT, the BPOS-S Exchange service experienced an issue with one of the hub components due to malformed email traffic on the service.
  • At 9:10am PDT today, service monitoring again detected malformed email traffic on the service. The problem was resolved at 10:03am, but users experienced up to 45 minute email delays during this time. A second, but related issue was detected via monitoring at 11:35am PDT, resulting in email stuck in some end users’ outboxes. The issue was remediated at 12:04pm PDT. During this time, more than 1.5 million messages had queued on the service awaiting delivery. The backlog was 90% clear by 4:12 PM, but because of this large backlog of email, customers may have experienced delays of as long as 3 hours.
  • In an unrelated incident, starting at 1:04am PDT, service monitoring detected a failure in the Domain Name Service (DNS) hosting the http://mail.microsoftonline.com domain. This failure, prevented users from accessing Outlook Web Access hosted in the Americas, and partially impacted some functionality of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync devices.

The incidents showcase the amount of downtime that can be experienced if simply relying on online services. Ed Bott compared this outage to Google’s 30-hour outage in February where users did not have any access to their calendar, email, or contacts except those synced to their phone or offline email application via IMAP. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Outlook allows users to keep an offline copy of everything in their online Exchange account. Therefore, while users may have been frustrated by the BPOS outage, they still had access to all their data and would have simply required the use of another email account to send their email until the outage was resolved.

Microsoft’s Office 365 suite seems to present the best of both worlds. Office 365 is the successor to BPOS and was unscathed last week during the BPOS outage despite the service being in beta. The primary benefit from the service is the relatively seamless approach to offline and online support. With the numerous outages by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft over the last few months, it seems apparent at this point that anyone considering cloud-based online services needs to fully consider the risks involved and utilize this type of hybrid offline/online approach that can mitigate any potential downtime.

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