Friday, November 16, 2012

Office 365 Gives a Credit... Good Customer Service Follows Service Failure

This past week wasn't the finest for Microsoft's Office 365 service (see the ZDNet story), but it did give us an opportunity to see how Microsoft handles customer service and exercises their "financially-backed guarantee".

Here's what happened: on November 8th and again on November 13th, some Office 365 customers in North America reported that they were experiencing e-mail problems.  Microsoft then acknowledged that some customers in the Americas had intermittent failures accessing Office 365 e-mail services.  Customers reported various issues ranging from partial to full outages and also for various lengths of time, some for over two hours.

Office 365 is an enterprise service with a 99.9% up time SLA.  There are 30 days in November, 24 hours per day and 60 minutes in an hour... 30 x 24 x 60 = 43,200 minutes (720 hours) in November. 99.9% of 43,200 is 43,157, or just over 719 hours.  That means that if Office 365 was down for an hour or more for your business they missed their 99.9% up time guarantee.

What do you do to get your service credit?  Normally you would need to report the outage and request your credit through the Office 365 portal's Service Request page.  Microsoft would then credit a future bill to compensate for the lost service you paid for.  In this case, though, Microsoft went above and beyond...

Microsoft announced in e-mails to Office 365 service admins (the account holders) the following:

Dear Admin:

The Office 365 team strives to provide exceptional service to all of our customers. On Thursday, November 8 and Tuesday, November 13 we experienced two separate service issues that impacted customers served from our data centers in the Americas. We apologize for the inconvenience these issues caused you and your employees.

We are committed to communicating with our customers in an open and honest manner about service issues and the steps we’re taking to prevent recurrences.

Here are more details about the recent issues:
The first service incident occurred on November 8 and resulted in prolonged mail flow delays for many of our customers in North and South America. Office 365 utilizes multiple anti-virus engines to identify and clean virus messages from our customers' inboxes. Going forward, we have built and implemented better recovery tools that allow us to remediate these situations much faster, and we are also adding some additional architectural safeguards that automatically remediate issues of this general nature.
On November 13, some customers in North and South America were unable to access email services. This service incident resulted from a combination of issues related to maintenance, network element failures, and increased load on the service. These three issues in combination caused customer access to email services to be degraded for an extended period of time. Significant capacity increases are already underway and we are also adding automated handling on these type of failures to speed recovery time.
Across the organization, we are executing a full review of our processes to proactively identify further actions needed to avoid these situations.

We understand that any disruption in service may result in a disruption to your business. As a gesture of our commitment to ensuring the highest quality service experience Microsoft is changing the standard credit procedure for this incident and is proactively providing your organization a credit equal to 25 percent of your monthly invoice. The credit will appear on a future invoice, and there’s no need to contact Microsoft to receive this credit. Please note, processing of the credit may take as long as 90 days.

If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Questions and answers about this and other Office 365 issues can be found at our Office 365 community site.

Thank you for choosing Office 365 to host your business productivity applications. We appreciate the serious responsibility we have as a service provider to you, and we know that any issue with the service is a disruption to your business and that’s not acceptable. We apologize for the inconvenience these issues caused you and your employees.

Thank you,
The Office 365 Team
I don't know for certain that all North America Office 365 accounts were sent this notice, but I didn't notice an outage on either of those days with either of the two separate Office 365 accounts I use daily.  I'm being provided with a service credit apparently even though I didn't report an issue and didn't experience any issues.  I imagine that the service credit is probably for the entire region.

Say what you will about Microsoft.  Everyone messes up sometimes.  I know that e-mail outages are frustrating and sometimes result in a real loss of revenue.  In some cases e-mail is even more critical and lives and careers can depend on it.  Realistically, though, there are alternatives for communication when e-mail goes down:
  1. You can still use the phone (even if you don't want to talk)
  2. You can temporarily use an alternate e-mail service (Yahoo mail or even those other guys whose name begins with a G)
  3. Most businesses still have fax machines - yes... they do.
  4. You could use a courier
  5. Just wait a while... it WILL come back.
Make sure you hold your vendors accountable though.  It's painful to be without a service they guarantee.  In this case, Microsoft was proactive in their service credit and appears to be taking all the right steps to ensure the issues won't be repeated.  I applaud their efforts.  Someone should give the guy that suggested that a raise.

In other cases, you exercise your objections to outages by demanding your money back (or a credit).  Hit businesses where it hurts... in their wallets.  This is how you encourage good behavior and how services improve... when customers demand it.  Know your rights as a customer and stick up for yourself.  Your vendors won't always treat you with respect and be as proactive as Microsoft was.

Here are some links to the Service Level Agreements for Microsoft's Office 365 and for Google's Apps for Business:
Microsoft promises the following:
Monthly Uptime Percentage
Service Credit
 < 99.9%
 < 99%
< 95%

Based upon the numbers from the top of this story, there are 43,200 minutes in November and 99% of that is 42,768 minutes or 712.8 hours.  So unless you experienced more than 7.2 hours (43,200-42,768=432/60=7.2) of outage this month you just got the correct credit (25%) without having to submit a ticket.

The cloud isn't perfect.  Is it better than what you could do on your own though?  Could you do better security?  Almost certainly not... I don't care how big or small your organization is.  Could you beat the cost?  I doubt it... calculate the cost of equipment, support engineers (not cheap!), outside consultants, ongoing upgrades, power, cooling, etc.  Oh, then add in the cost of backup software, high-availability across geographically dispersed locations and more.  Can you do that on your own?  At any price?

The cloud is getting better though... and will continue to.  Services improve and I would bet that eventually you will see the SLA guarantees creep up to four-nines (99.99% up time guarantee).  In the meanwhile, though, if you need more up time than you can get from Office 365 you can consider a companion product so that your risk is spread across multiple vendors.  One such product is Mimecast(PDF).  They guarantee 100% up time for your e-mail.  It looks good on paper, but I haven't tried it out yet.  If anyone has experience with the product I'd love to hear about it.

In any case, I think Office 365 is like Democracy.  Everyone says that Democracy is the worst form of government ever conceived... except for all of the others.  Office 365 (and cloud services in general) is still a relatively new service and when it goes down it really stinks.  I think its still much better than the alternatives though.  The calculations that make cloud computing compelling haven't changed.  Hold your vendors to their guarantees, but keep in mind that service is just going to get better.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Additional Office 365 Service Update for October

One additional Office 365 update for October was just announced (I know... its November now).  The new Office Web Apps features are going live for SharePoint Online in the next couple days.  I mention the changes in the announcement e-mail but the details weren't all there yet.  It looks like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote all get a makeover this time around.

Here is the revision notice with specifics:

New Office Web Apps features in SharePoint

With the latest SharePoint Online update, you’ll get new Office Web Apps features: more editing and formatting controls, co-authoring support across the web apps and expanded device support, including editing from tablets.

Using web-based versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote you can view, edit, and work together on Office documents from nearly anywhere. Here is a highlight of the new features across each Office Web App:

·         Word Web App Update: See graphics, images, and layout with excellent fidelity, including new support for viewing and adding comments. Format and design documents right from a browser with commonly used features from Word on the desktop, including new page layout tools, picture tools and word count. New co-authoring and comment support in Word Web App makes it easier to work together on the web.
·         Excel Web App updates: Get essential spreadsheet features, such as merge cells, context menus, auto-fit columns, formula assistance, fill handle and AutoSum. Manipulate and visualize data for deeper insights with support for high fidelity charts including 3D, improved Query Table and Data Validation support, Slicer functionality and Pivot Chart interactivity.
·         PowerPoint Web App updates: Presentations look like they do on the desktop, with high-resolution slides, full transitions, and viewable comments. Audio and video playback is now supported, even from a tablet or phone. Drag and drop support makes for easier layouts. While the ability to insert images, apply transitions and animations, or add a pre-designed theme make polished presentations from a browser possible. And new co-authoring and comment support in PowerPoint Web App improves collaboration in the cloud.
·         OneNote Web App updates: Users can find what they need more easily with the ability to search on a page or within a section. And new support for ink viewing makes more information accessible from the web. Just click-to-type anywhere on the page to add a note, picture or a tag. And notes can now be shared as a URL, viewable on a phone, PC or tablet through a browser.

If you would like to learn more, we recommend the following blog post by Mike Morton, Group Program Manager of the Office Web Applications, which describes the coming Office Web App enhancements.

Note: Office 365 will be ending support for Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) on October 1st, 2012. The upcoming Office Web Apps update does not support IE7. Please review the Office 365 system requirements page here.

Additional Information:
To read more on Web Apps go to this Technical Blog article.
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