by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft’s Cloud App Outages: Was Mea Culpa Enough?

Sep 10, 2010
Data Center

Microsoft apologized for outages, but users may not tolerate them, especially as MS touts its enterprise muscle over Google's.

After experiencing three high-profile outages with its BPOS hosted software service in the past two weeks, a humbled Microsoft offered a mea culpa late Wednesday night via a company blog post.

In the post, titled “Meeting Your – And Our Own – Expectations”, BPOS (business productivity online suite) team leader Morgan Cole apologizes for letting down customers and “falling short of its aspiration to deliver quality services.”

Cole provides some details on what exactly happened to cause the outages on August 23, Sept. 3 and Sept. 7. The August 23 outage caused a “two-hour period of intermittent access for BPOS” because of a network infrastructure upgrade. The September outages led to “brief periods of service degradation, primarily affecting the sign-in service and administrative portals.” However, it’s unclear from the post what caused this degradation.

As for fixes for the September outages, Cole writes: “We performed emergency maintenance to isolate suspect traffic, which has proven successful in stabilizing the service. We continue to monitor the network and all services to ensure stable operations.”

The gist of this week’s apology is that Microsoft messed up and they vow to do better next time.

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It’s worth noting that Microsoft has scheduled maintenance for Exchange Online and SharePoint Online in North America this Saturday, Sept. 11. The planned maintenance period begins at 4 a.m. GMT and may last through 10 p.m. GMT, company officials have told customers. Tying up loose ends to prevent another outage perhaps? One hopes so.

This is the same Microsoft, mind you, that’s selling enterprise customers on its brawny enterprise strength, expertise and support as compared to that other Web apps company — Google.

Funny thing about outages: they stick in customers’ minds. They are an unfortunate part of doing business in the cloud, but will only be tolerated for so long, says Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“These kinds of cloud outages come with the territory,” says Schadler. “But what’s different now is that companies have to trust that a third-party utility provider can do a good enough job to keep an annoyance from becoming a business risk too high to tolerate.”

Clearly, the BPOS outages are a poor reflection of Microsoft’s ability to support enterprise software. And an apology, no matter how sincere, doesn’t give customers back the two hours that they didn’t have e-mail when a project was due or when documents needed to be sent to important clients.

For BPOS customers who put their trust and money in Microsoft’s “We’re all in for the cloud” mantra, an apology is hollow. And I wouldn’t blame them for feeling like they are paying for Microsoft’s cloud learning curve.

Another important issue here is whether Microsoft owes victims of the outages any money back. A commenter on the Microsoft apology blog post, identified as Guy Gregory, Technical Specialist at Peak Support Services, raises an interesting question in his comment.

“Given the 2 hour outage equates to 99.7% for August, will you be honoring your pledge to refund affected users? My understanding was that the 99.9% uptime promise was backed by a money-back guarantee.”

BPOS team leader and post writer Cole did not mention compensation in his post, but Jim Glynn, Microsoft Project Manager for Cloud Services, did respond to Gregory’s question in the comments section.

“Hi Guy. Thanks for your question. In the case of the widespread August 23 incident, we proactively provided a credit to all affected customers. However, in general practice, customers who believe that

we have not met our service level agreement should contact Support to request an SLA credit. Customers can contact Support by phone, or by filing a service request in the Administrator portal. Thanks again for your question.”

Microsoft is showing good will by compensating those who were negatively affected by the outages and giving SLA customers a chance to state their case. A blanket apology was a good start, but compensation is a better way to curb bad feelings.

Were you hit by the BPOS outages? Have you lost trust in Microsoft as a cloud provider, or are outages just part of life in the cloud?

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at