One of the great joys of moving an application such as Exchange to a cloud provider is that they take on the responsibility of all of the mundane but necessary tasks that have to be performed to keep things going. No administrator will shed a tear to transition tasks such as applying updates, making sure that security is maintained, and ongoing maintenance for servers, applications, and storage, not to mention the documentation of things such as change orders.
But the joy from the release from mundane maintenance can be tempered by a feeling of utter helplessness when things go wrong. Let’s face it, when you’re running servers, you are in control in terms of responding to users when they encounter problems and although problems generate work, you know what’s going on and often realize exactly what has to be done to restore service. After work transitions into the cloud, you depend on the support infrastructure of the cloud provider and that dependency delivers a radically different experience to “do it yourself”. You now rely on components such as Twitter, service dashboards, and call centers to understand what’s going on, where a problem might lie, and what you can do to resolve an issue. Often there is simply nothing that can be done and you just have to wait until the service provider fixes the problem and service is restored. The fact that there’s a certain “thing” called the Internet that no one controls but carries all the traffic to and from the cloud introduces another really important variable into the mix.
Microsoft experienced a networking problem on August 17 that turned into a 190 minute outage for North American users of the Exchange Online application within Office 365. Problems do happen and although questions can be asked as to why redundant network components weren’t in place to protect Microsoft’s datacenter, the more fundamental issue that arose from the experience is how well the Office 365 support systems worked in terms of communicating to hundreds of thousands of users. As I conclude in my latest article on WindowsITPro.com, I’m not altogether sure that everyone enjoyed their support experience.
Feel free to read and comment. As Office 365 grows in popularity and customers transition from older Exchange platforms, the demand for high-quality support will only grow so it’s important that Microsoft gets this part of the Office 365 ecosystem right. After all, handing over responsibility for an application without having a warm feeling that everything will run to an acceptable standard, including during outages, is hardly a good thing to do!
Those wanting to find out more about the technical underpinning of Exchange Online in Office 365 might like to read Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out, also available at Amazon.co.uk and in a Kindle edition. Although Exchange Online uses a different version of Exchange 2010 than that deployed for on-premises organizations, the technical detail is really very similar.