Microsoft's Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online have had their service restored following outages on Wednesday, August 17. For CRM Online, the issues reportedly included a performance slowdown to the point of being unusable. For Office 365, the status dashboard during the outage had indicated that "all users are unable to access their email, and administrators are unable to manage existing accounts or provision new accounts."
The Redmond, Washington-based software giant has said it will merge CRM Online with the Office 365 suite at some point, but currently they are run and delivered separately. Microsoft has told news media that the Office 365 issues were related to an unspecified "networking issue" which affects one of the company's North American data centers. During that outage, there were also reports of problems with the company's SkyDrive service.
Microsoft emailed a note Thursday to its Office 365 customers: "On August 17, customers served from one of our North American data centers lost access to email services included in the Office 365 suite," the note said.
"Preliminary investigation indicates that a networking interruption in one of our North America data centers" caused the Office 365 problem, the note continues. The outage occurred between 11:30 a.m. PDT and 2:40 p.m. PDT.
The note indicated that the cause was being investigated and the data center's networking facilities "have been remediated" to make sure an outage doesn't happen again, Microsoft said.
Office 365 customers automatically will receive a credit equal to 25 percent of their monthly invoice, the company said.
The problems come at a particularly bad time for both Office 365 and CRM Online. Office 365 was launched officially only in June, and the company promoted the idea of IT departments moving from using Office locally to using it via Microsoft's cloud-based service. The company emphasized the reliability, availability and redundant backup systems in place.
Jacuzzi in the Server Room
As part of the marketing push, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had related the story of a small-business owner who was considering putting a Jacuzzi in his server room, because of all the space left over from moving to a cloud-hosted Office suite.
In January, the company released Dynamics CRM Online, the cloud version of its 2011 product, at introductory pricing of $34 per user. That was less than half the price for comparable products from Salesforce.com and Oracle, which are the main competitors that Microsoft was taking on.
While cloud-based services are all the rage, they come with risks, as recent events have shown. Business services from Intuit and Amazon have gone down, and, on the consumer side, Sony's game and music services suffered an epic outage after hackers compromised users' personal data.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corp., said the Microsoft outages raised the kind of concerns that "people have about using hosted solutions for their businesses." In this case, she felt that Microsoft might not have shown the kind of "transparency" that customers might expect, such as updates on when services would be restored, what the issues were, and so on.
"Things like this will happen," she said, adding that the company has to keep customers informed in order to retain their confidence.