The Night the ‘Office’ Went Dark

Two weeks ago, Microsoft’s Office 365/Microsoft 365 cloud-based services, which include the online Office apps, went down for as long as five hours in some parts of the United States, Western Europe and India. As of this writing last week, users were still reporting sporadic outages of some services. So far, our clients have not been affected, but It’s a fluid situation.

No matter what happened and what might happen, you can protect your data by backing up your files in more than one place. The outage hit Azure, a Microsoft platform, that we use for our backup for Microsoft 365, which was known as Office or Office 365. Microsoft 365 is built on Azure. It wasn’t the first time it was hit by an outage, and it won’t be the last. In its most recent outage, Azure and Microsoft 365 were affected by what was reported as a major Azure Active Directory authentication issue. In practical terms, users got kicked out of cloud-based applications, such as Office, Outlook, Exchange, Teams and SharePoint. It lasted from roughly 5 to 10 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Microsoft said very little but referred to an update in their network structure – and then said they rolled back the changes to an older version. It was all automated, but because of the authentication issues, some administrators couldn’t see the changes. Over the course of two weeks, problems cascaded worldwide – and randomly. Despite what Microsoft reports, we haven’t seen any satisfactory explanations of what happened and how it was fixed.

In this case, we don’t know of any data losses, but if you can’t access your files, they’re as good as lost until the service comes back. That’s where multiple backups are valuable. As a small business or home user, you may still have a computer with a version of Office installed. If you can pull a file from another storage site, such as Mozy (one of our partners) or Dropbox, or from an external hard drive, you may be able to work with your file. You also can store files on your computer’s hard drive.

One of the problems with an outage such as the one that hit Azure, you never know when it will hit. We reported on an outage two years ago, and we did have at least one client who was affected.

At the time we were affected, we were doing a setup at a client and needed to get a big file from Azure. When I logged in to get it, I got no access; I just got a message they would send a text. I had an external hard drive with an old version of the file, and that was not suitable. Transferring the file remotely from my office computer would have taken too long. We solved the immediate problem by transferring the file from my computer to my Dropbox account and then downloading it from there. We and our client were fortunate that I had the capability – files stored on a computer I could access and Dropbox – to initiate a solution.

Azure solves recovery issues for us because it works seamlessly in the background with Office 365, including Outlook and its PST files for your email. For some, backing up email may be more important than backing up files.

As an IT professional, I like Azure’s ability to generate reports – with more capabilities coming online all the time. Microsoft constantly uses customer feedback to add more power to the platform. That gives us the ability to go back into our clients’ backup records to trace incidents and to restore files after a catastrophic event. That’s critical because it can be 90 days – sometimes longer – before a hack or data loss is discovered by a client. When that happens, we can go back in time through the power of Azure to find data files that help us help you recover.

We can help you with continuity during various service outages, but it all starts with accessing your data.  Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your backup and file storage options. The cost of a workable redundancy system may pale in comparison to the loss you could suffer from the loss of data or the loss of access to your data.

Mail Services Make a Difference

Some people stay with their email out of loyalty or inertia. For some home-based users, we can find a few good reasons why you should switch. For businesses, we can’t find one why you should stay.

First, here’s a little history. Back in the early days, we accessed the Internet through dial-up modems, and some of you may remember CompuServe, which preceded AOL. They tried to have enough local phone numbers to handle traffic and differences in users’ modem speeds. A number of local ISPs (Internet Service Providers) sprang up to meet the demand. Some, such as Mindspring, became regional or national providers.

All of them offered email services under their own domains. You’re still likely to see addresses with AOL and Mindspring. You’re also like to see some small providers still servicing email accounts. Together, there are some problems, especially when you look at the capabilities of telephone carriers, cable companies, Internet-based providers such as Gmail and services such as Microsoft Exchange.

Let’s look at the smaller providers. Email is a 24/7/365 necessity today. Along with texting, it’s a huge communications tool that we use to conduct business and even find meeting places on a weekend day. This raises a critical question: What happens when email service goes down from, say, 7 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Monday?

A small provider may not have the capability to respond to outages in a timely fashion, either by having someone to fix a problem or the network to route traffic around a trouble spot. If you are a business, you simply cannot afford to stay with an email service that can’t recover quickly. If you are a home user who does not have a smartphone with email capability, you should still switch, but it may not be critical for you.

Everyone, especially business users, should be looking at their providers and their platforms. AOL and Mindspring, from what we’ve seen, are not upgrading their email-handling systems as fast as others, such as Gmail. We’ve seen AOL users couldn’t open files because their systems could support their needs. They had to save files and then open them outside of AOL.

We realize change is hard for many people, especially those attached to their AOL systems. However, email services from your ISP, Gmail or Microsoft Exchange are much more robust and give you better access from Internet and cellular connections. Keeping an AOL browser can be expensive as well as slow. You still pay monthly access fees for connections that others provide as part of their service. You can still access AOL email from Internet Explorer or Firefox, for example.

We can help you find the email service that’s right for you. Just send us an email or give us a call – 973-433-6676 to start the conversation and develop an action plan.