Starting Monday, Office 365 users started losing service. First Lync Online went down for several hours on the 23rd. Then Exchange Online did the same thing on the 24th.

Lync Online Outage: Microsoft Lync Online users hit by outage – ZDNet
Lync users see outages as Microsoft wrangles with network problems – The Register

Outlook/Exchange Online Outage: Microsoft Outlook Outage Reported Across Much of the Country (Resolved) – Washington Post
Microsoft Suffers Another Cloud Outage As Exchange Online Users Left In The Lurch – CRN.com

Looking at Twitter yesterday, I saw tweet after tweet of frustration. There were even businesses who asked customers to call them today, because nobody could receive email!

The services are back up as of now…but the outage still meant many hours of lost business time for thousands of customers.

Comments on the above articles make points we should all keep in mind.

“At least with on premise, you are in control.”
“[On-premise] Lync Server is on par with Exchange in terms of complexity.”
“Outages happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s your datacenter or MS’ datacenter, just a fact of life.”

The last one is 100% true. This was inevitable. The day Office 365 signed up its first user, the countdown to a large-scale crash started.

Outages are an unfortunate reality of IT. No matter what system, no matter how many backups or failsafes or redundancies you build in, eventually something will crash.

No, I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’. Nor will I disparage Microsoft for the outage (though I am on record as preferring Lync on-premises than via Office 365).

Instead, I’d just like to talk about what we can learn from outages like this.

Outages are Inevitable. Plan Accordingly.

The main thing to remember when it comes to outages, is that they WILL show up eventually. Sure, we do a lot of work to make sure they are rare and short-lived. But part of that work, if you’re working smart, is in making a plan for when the outages do come about.

brokencable1It could be as simple a plan as, “When outages occur, switch operations to X and call IT.” Even that can help a lot.

If you want a more constructive plan, here are some considerations all businesses – especially businesses using cloud solutions – should take into account.

Do you have a backup communications method?
If you do use Lync Online, chances are you can survive without IM for a while. Unless email is down too. Then you’re left scrambling to communicate. And when Lync Online adds VoIP capability, I would advise you to keep some cellphones around!

Do your users have an alternate way to send/receive email, create business documents and collaborate?
Few things will grind a business to a halt than email going down. It may be prudent to contract with a local service for an on-demand email server. Or add Exchange to an on-site server and keep it in reserve.

Where are your files stored?
If you store files in the cloud, it’s smart to have a local backup of some sort. Either a local server pulling down copies, or a third-party backup provider doing so for you.

Do you have strong security in place, both for cloud-based access and internal computers?
Microsoft’s security for Office 365 data is well-documented. But it still pays to employ security on data transmitted to & from cloud services.

Maintain a relationship with an IT professional or consultant who specializes in the software.
Do you know an expert who can help you if Lync Online goes down? What about on-premises software like Exchange Server or your CMS? Even if you don’t call them often, having someone you can rely on brings peace of mind.

Remember not to blame IT for the outage.
I asked our IT consultants about the last few customer outages on which we’ve worked. They mentioned two in the past month. Both at customer sites – a server failure and an email crash. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t the customer’s fault either. It just happened. They went in, fixed the problem, and everyone got back to work. Believe it or not, keeping this in mind helps a lot with the frustration.

Office 365 Will Go Down Again. Just a Matter of Time. Don’t Panic.

While I’m not a big fan of Office 365 – I prefer Lync’s much greater on-premise capabilities – it’s out there and in popular use. All Office 365 users must be aware that, even with 99.9% uptime, outages can occur. If someone is at fault, fine. But either way YOU need a plan to deal with the outage.

Without a plan in place, most business’ default response to an outage is something like, “Wave Arms in Air, Run Around Yelling”. Not very productive is it?

Do you have an outage plan in place? Does it have elements not listed here? If so, please comment or email me. We can all benefit from discussing outages and how to respond to them.

Lessons from an Office 365 Outage
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