The first day of any large vendor-centric technology conference is invariably accompanied by a great deal of hype as the vendor takes full opportunity to strut their stuff and spread the good news. Keynotes full of bold new announcements are backed up by a blizzard of press releases, blogs, and other information, all of which is intended to result in positive coverage for the company and warm feelings all round.
I therefore wasn’t very surprised to see what happened on the opening day of TechEd U.S. last Monday. I watched Brad Anderson’s keynote online and thought it to be well up to the standard (his shoes are pretty amazing, however) with lots of attention given to new developments in Azure.
The keynote was then followed by the expected announcements and it’s taken a few days to separate the good stuff out. TechEd is a monster conference because it covers so much technology. I applied my usual filter and looked at the Office 365 information to get a sense of the messaging Microsoft is trying to communicate with its customers.
Security is the big theme. I guess this is unsurprising because last year’s PRISM revelations created a lot of difficulty for all cloud providers. Microsoft responded with a new Office 365 Trust Center to lay out how user data is protected in Office 365. The site contains a lot of interesting information as well as the obligatory swipe at Google (“Your data is not used for our advertising”) that is reinforced in their “10 questions you should ask your cloud provider” document.
The Office 365 Trust Center also documents a pretty impressive SLA figure (99.96%), which is in line with the quarterly SLA figures that Office 365 has delivered for the last two years. Gmail started off with a better SLA than Office 365 (largely due to some initial glitches in Office 365 management that have not reappeared), but things have gone awfully quite on the Gmail front recently and I can’t find any public record of Gmail’s current performance against SLA, even using Google Search. Google does maintain an Apps Status dashboard but I can’t get any SLA data from it.
Of course, the normal caveat applies in that all cloud services measure SLA performance at the boundary of their datacenters. In other words, that annoying but oh-so-essential thing called the Internet that connects users to cloud providers is factored out of the SLA equation.
Some observers have attempted to calculate “real SLA performance” using the reports published by cloud providers when incidents occur. These calculations are problematic because so little context is available to understand the exact impact of any reported problem. Nevertheless, zealots on both side of the argument do attempt to take a little data and make it into a story, like this only ever-so-lightly biased comparison of Exchange Online availability against Gmail published in 2013 by Cloud Sherpas, a company that I have noted before in terms of their ability to take information and present it in new and interesting ways.
Stripping away all of the marketing hoo-hah and fables, the key point is that all of the major cloud providers are delivering SLA figures for utility applications like email that few large corporate datacenters could match, which is a good thing.
The Office 365 Trust Center is also referenced in an accompanying blog post by Rajesh Jha that emphasizes the security capabilities required for “enterprise grade cloud services.” Again, this is a competitive poke at Google whose capabilities could be considered to be more focused on the needs of users and small businesses. Microsoft lays out its case for encrypted storage, mobile device management, and Data Loss Prevention for SharePoint (taking a similar approach to the DLP features available in Exchange).
Written words are all very well but a cogent message delivered with verve is usually a much better way of getting the point across. I enjoyed Vivek Sharma’s 5-minute video explaining the layers of security that protect Office 365 data at rest that you can find in the “Inside the Cloud” post. Vivek is a great presenter with bags of knowledge. His “Behind the Curtain: How we run Exchange Online” video from MEC is well worthwhile watching by anyone who wants to understand how a 100,000-server Exchange 2013 environment is automated to the nth degree.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that Microsoft has been very successful in moving small to medium businesses to the cloud. Larger businesses are usually more complex, distributed across multiple countries and more regulated, so they represent a bigger challenge for any cloud vendor, especially when questions about data security and privacy are raised. It seems pretty clear that Microsoft has identified enterprise-grade services as a good battleground to take on Google and that reassuring people that their data is secure at all times with Office 365 is a big part of that war.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna