Office 365 outages highlight cloud monitoring needs

The recent cloud outages in Office 365 should make organizations reevaluate their monitoring systems to prepare for future service disruptions.

Microsoft's Office 365 suite suffered two outages this week, leaving some customers critiquing the company's lack of communication and experts emphasizing the need for monitoring tools.

Monday's Lync outage affected some North American customers for a few hours. Microsoft said the outage was due to network routing infrastructure issues in an official statement about the service interruption.

Tuesday's Exchange Online outage, less than 24 hours later, lasted nearly a full day and affected some North American customers' ability to receive email. Engineers rerouted traffic to improve the mail flow late in the day to resolve the issue. Microsoft did not give a cause for the outage in its official statement.

One of the main criticisms from customers on Office 365 forums following the outages is Microsoft's perceived lack of updates and communication during the outages, particularly with the Exchange Online outage. Some customers said problems they experienced during the service disruption didn't appear in their service health dashboard.

LITSG LLC, a technology consulting company in Round Rock, Texas, runs Office 365 in-house and was affected by the Lync outage. Richard Luckett, president at the company, only became aware of the outage from his colleagues and updates online.

"I think there's a certain onus to keep people updated pretty frequently, especially when it's in extended recovery like that," Luckett said. "When you're down for hours, it's extremely frustrating and communication is kind of paramount. It could be something Microsoft could improve upon, the frequency of the communication."

Microsoft will likely take the criticism from this week's outages to improve its reporting, he said.

The need for monitoring tools

This week's Office 365 outages emphasize the importance of monitoring deployments, said Michael Van Horenbeeck, technology consultant at Belgian ICT services provider Xylos.

Many companies that go hybrid or to the public cloud think they don't need to look after their deployments anymore, and to a certain extent, they're right. But companies should still care about the availability of their end users' servers.

"If you buy a service from Microsoft and it isn't working, you should know it and you should be [angry]," he said. "But how would you know that if you're not monitoring it?"

He pointed to the people with monitoring systems in place who first reported their Exchange Online outages early Tuesday morning, a few hours before Microsoft communicated about it. Customers lose valuable time when outages happen, and they must learn how to protect themselves with a good monitoring system in place and how to use its data, Van Horenbeeck said.

"Use that data to tap into Microsoft to get the information that you need," he said.   

Will outages spark hybrid cloud use? 

The outages have also raised questions about the effects it could have on future adoption of Office 365 cloud services. There have been similar situations with Office 365's predecessor, Business Productivity Online Suite, which experienced severe outages early on, Luckett said. But Microsoft uses these incidents to learn and improve their cloud services, evidenced by the time between outages, he added.

While the outages may deter a few, it likely won't scare off the majority of enterprises. Those nervous about Office 365 may consider hybrid deployments where some mailboxes reside in the cloud and some on-premises, allowing them to "live in both worlds," Luckett said.

Exchange shops with hybrid deployments would need additional monitoring for both the on-premises and cloud environments, he said. But a hybrid option would let organizations take action to alleviate the effects of an outage when it occurs, such as rerouting traffic.

But hybrid deployments don't fit all scenarios, so monitoring is a better approach, Van Horenbeeck said.

"This should be a question about how we protect ourselves if [an outage] happens," he said.  

Note: Richard Luckett and Michael Van Horenbeeck contribute to SearchExchange.com.

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