Microsoft BPOS cloud outage burns Exchange converts

'All in' now looking for a 'way out'


Microsoft has served up another apology for the unreliability of its cloud after burning converts to its BPOS collaboration service by killing their email.

Dave Thompson, corporate vice president for Microsoft's online services, has been telling customers who've gone "all in" on Microsoft's BPOS cloud that he's really "sorry for the inconvenience" that they've suffered.

Customers on BPOS in the US and worldwide were kicked off their hosted Exchange email systems, being unable to read, write, or access their messages. All users were affected – from down in the cubicle farm all the way up to the CEO's corner office. The outages started Tuesday and came after weeks of the service slowly degrading.

The cause of the problem, Thomson said, was "malformed email traffic" in BPOS's Exchange Servers – and, no, he wasn't more specific than that. He also included some hocus-pocus about "obscure cases" and "related issues."

Thompson further groveled on the Microsoft Online Services Team Blog:

I'd like to apologize to you, our customers and partners, for the obvious inconveniences these issues caused. We know that email is a critical part of your business communication, and my team and I fully recognize our responsibility as your partner and service provider. We will provide a full post mortem, and will also provide additional updates on how our service level agreement (SLA) was impacted. We will be proactively issuing a service credit to our impacted customers.

He also stated that Microsoft genuinely values its BPOS customers' business, knows it must try harder, and added – for good measure – that Redmond could have been done a lot more to keep people in the loop.

Thompson is right to prostrate himself in front of his customers: those who were burned include brand-new BPOS converts who've moved off other webmail systems or old Exchange servers they ran themselves. Admins who made the case inside their companies for jumping on BPOS now find themselves having a lot of explaining to do to their bosses, or are actively looking for a way off Microsoft's cloud. Or both.

You can take a sampling of the frustration and disappointment on the Microsoft Online Services TechCenter forum, where one user called DarkOneX_Work, who is moving 1,100 webmail users to BPOS, wrote: "This is looking really bad, we just purchased this solution at the end of the year and started migrating our many users over. ... We simply cannot have things like this happening hardly ever, let along multiple times per month this is outragous! [sic] Fix this MS!"

Another posting newbie, RichSaenz, has been left to feel stupid by Microsoft: "I've been with Microsoftonline [sic] for two weeks now, two outages in that time and the boss looks at me like I'm a dolt. I was THIS close to signing with Intermedia."

Kevin Baker posted that he had migrated his company to Exchange Online from in-house Exchange 2003 last October. Now he's wishing he hadn't. "I'm sorry to say that I regret everything I ever said about how this would be better. It has been far worse in terms of both performance and reliability. I hate to be so harsh, but I am deeply frustrated," he wrote.

"Email is the one thing that everyone from the guys in the factory up the CEO uses," he continued. "The c-suite execs hardly use anything BUT email. It has a bigger impact on IT's reputation with end-users and business leaders than anything else, and these constant service outages and 'impairments' have got all of us in IT panicked. We're actively looking at migration paths back to in-house email."

Baker added: "My baseline expectation was that this service would be at least AS functional as, say, Hotmail or some other free email service. Needless to say, I have been bitterly disappointed."

Microsoft has been gung-ho in pushing BPOS and Office 365 – which it's becoming – as the alternative to Google Apps. There's a market and mindshare war underway between Redmond and Mountain View, with Microsoft paying partners to rip out Gmail inboxes for BPOS while bragging about its cloud wins.

In this war there's no room for prisoners or mistakes because it's not just bad PR, it's bad for business. Microsoft's customers are still new enough to be able to walk away. Microsoft's only consolation is that it is not the only online service provider who's getting tripped up by the basics of managing lots of those overworked computers known as servers – Google's Blogger and Amazon's AWS have had their own problems recently, as well.®

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