Email Down – Everything Down – Is the Cloud the Answer?

Email OutageEmail Down
Microsoft Exchange was down recently on Tuesday, June 24, 2014.  The service outage of this online email service left many users in the United States without email all morning, and many into the evening.  The official downtime was 8.65 hours.  This outage resulted in many frustrated people unable to communicate and thus unable to conduct business, and also unable to contact Microsoft customer service representatives.  This outage followed a widespread service outage of Lync, Microsoft’s business instant messaging service, for 6 hours the day before.

Microsoft’s investigation of the June 24, 2014 outage determined that a portion of the networking infrastructure entered into a degraded state.  Microsoft suffered three outages over the course of 2013.  Its outlook.com webmail service suffered an outage on March 14, 2013, for about 16 hours, which Microsoft blamed on an overheating datacenter.  On August 29, 2013 it suffered a major outage for about 3 hours, affecting the Exchange Online Service, caused by upgrades to the environment impacting the domain controller health.  The third 2013 outage was on November 21.  (I could not find the details.)

Microsoft Office 365The majority of businesses use Microsoft Office including Outlook.  Office 365 advertises that it is Microsoft Office powered by the cloud, so you can access your applications and files and email from virtually anywhere, on PC, Mac and tablets.  This access helps you to work more efficiently.  However, just as with any other cloud hosted services, when the Microsoft cloud crashes, Office 365 including Microsoft Exchange – its Outlook email service – is not accessible, making your work not efficient at all.  Microsoft has an uptime guarantee of 99.9%.

Google's GmailInstead of Microsoft, many businesses choose to use the Google suite of cloud hosted services including Gmail and Google Docs.  Gmail also has an uptime guarantee of 99.9%.  Gmail went down on Friday morning, January 24 of this year; the outage lasted 25 – 55 minutes and affected about 10% of Gmail users.  Gmail also went down on September 23, 2013 for 11 hours affecting 29% of emails, and on April 17, 2013 for about an hour, affecting hundreds of thousands of users.

It is difficult to actually compare downtime figures between the providers because downtime figures vary for each customer and, according to a Microsoft group product manager, Microsoft counts issues regardless of the number of users impacted (inferring that Google only counts if ‘enough’ users are impacted).  In addition, Microsoft doesn’t count planned downtime it its totals, while Google promises its business customers zero downtime for maintenance.

Uptime versus Downtime
99.9% uptime sounds impressive until you realize that this means .1% (one tenth of a percent) downtime.  While Microsoft and Gmail both have a history of 99.9% uptime, every cloud can fail.  99.9% uptime allows for 8.76 excruciating hours of downtime per year.  This is one of the risks of using cloud hosted services.

When there is an outage of service, the disruptions to business can be costly.  Businesses that rely on technology, such as healthcare practices, legal firms and financial services firms, strive for no unplanned downtime – meaning that the services will only be inaccessible during periods of planned service maintenance during predetermined times.  As demonstrated by the Office 365 and Gmail outages, this goal is not necessarily achievable.

(With a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee and downtime on June 24 of 8.76 hours, we noticed that if Office 365 has another 7 minutes of downtime in 2014, Microsoft may have to pay up.)

The Cloud versus In-House Services
As you can see, going to the cloud is not protection from outages.  However, this does not necessarily mean that you should move to in-house services.  The costs of licensing, servers, support and backup, are huge.  This decision requires balancing many different factors.

An in-house network can also go down.  There are several causes of a systems crash, such as when there is a power outage.  The power outages from Super-storm Sandy took networks down but, in this case, cloud hosted email continued to flow because Microsoft’s and Google’s clouds were not affected.

Don’t look at the cloud as “never down.”  There are risks associated with every decision.  Should your business use a cloud hosted email service or should you host your email on a private email server?  This same question regarding cloud vs. in-house may be asked about other key business applications as well.

Stemp Systems can help you evaluate which hosting methodologies are best for your business.  Call us.

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