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BPOS customers familiar with downtime, unfazed by Office 365 outages

Microsoft Office 365 customers experienced a second outage in less than a month last week, though several experts regard it as a bump in the road.

Microsoft Office 365 went live less than three months ago yet customers have already experienced two outages. For some IT pros, these outages are reason enough to delay Office 365 migrations, while others brush it off as growing pains.

Office 365 -- the next generation of Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) -- is a cloud-based collaboration and productivity suite that includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Office Web Apps and Office Professional Plus.

BPOS customers have suffered a number of outages over the past year and Office 365 was supposed to provide better uptime. But for the second time in less than a month, Office 365 customers experienced an outage that resulted in several hours of downtime. The most recent outage was due to a domain name system (DNS) configuration error that also brought down Microsoft’s other cloud-based services, including Windows Azure and Hotmail.

Per its 99.9% service level agreement (SLA), Microsoft issued a 25% credit toward Office 365 customers’ accounts.

The news that Office 365 already went down twice doesn’t sit well with some BPOS customers planning to move to the new platform. Zac King, general manager of TeamLogic IT, a Managed Service Provider, has a number of small and mid-sized companies using BPOS today but won’t move them to Office 365 just yet.

“There have been some decent sized outages on BPOS this year and we were told that Office 365 was specifically set up to prevent failures like these,” King said. “We have hesitated to migrate [our customers] to the Office 365 platform…I’m glad that we waited.”

But the move to Office 365 is inevitable for IT shops invested in BPOS. One BPOS Standard customer said these outages aren’t frequent enough to derail plans to move to Office 365 this year. “We’ve already invested so much time and money into BPOS and for the most part, people are happy,” said Bob Armstrong, IT manager for Anchorage, Alaska-based Enterprise Engineering Inc. “Even if you look at past outages, Microsoft is still delivering the 99.99%.”

Experts say these outages shouldn’t change customer migration plans because outages are simply a fact of life. “Outages happen. If they didn't, we wouldn't need SLAs,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. Miller also pointed out that both outages were due to consequences external to Office 365 (servers running the code).

Richard Luckett, president of SYSTMS of NY, Inc., an IT consulting firm, is optimistic that service levels will improve over time. “With everything Microsoft has invested in this product, these are not going to keep happening,” Luckett said. “People don’t assume they’re going to have outages, but from the IT perspective, there’s more acceptance because we deal with them on a regular basis.”

While there isn’t much customers can do to prevent outages with Exchange Online, customers can protect their investment by carefully reading Microsoft’s SLA and service descriptions before jumping into the cloud. “Office 365’s service descriptions are much more detailed than BPOS’s,” Luckett said. “If there is an outage, you already know how much you’re covered.”

Microsoft declined to comment on the outages for this article and referred to the Office 365 forum, which includes information on the various facets of Office 365 and is moderated by Microsoft employees.

Senior Site Editor Bridget Botelho contributed to this report.

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