Stormy Days in the Cloud

These days, it seems like everyone is pushing "cloud" computing. Everything from our music, videos and photos to business services like Exchange, SQL and even Windows Server. However, I'm discovering more and more why they call it the cloud and not clear skies.

Recently, I decided to move our mail to an Exchange Server in the cloud with a Microsoft service called Office 365. For those who don't know, Office 365 offers the well-known Microsoft Office business tools for email, documents, calendars, IT support etc. through their internet network known as "the cloud." Our company has staff and contractors all over the world (literally), so the prospect of allowing the flexibility of administration and mailbox access anywhere in the world (via the internet) made complete business sense. Additionally, the security blanket of the 99.9% uptime promised by Microsoft was so alluring, what could go wrong?

Microsoft offers trial service for their Office 365 (intended for small business under 25 employees) or alternatively, an enterprise solution which offers much higher capacity. I jumped quickly to move our company domain MX records to the small business service. Everything was going fine. As I was pleased with the service (and realized I could get the enterprise service as part of our partnership agreement with Microsoft), I decided to move into the full Enterprise edition. So, I followed the instructions to delete our domain out of the small business option and re-create it in the enterprise solution. The Microsoft Windows server allowed me to do this and it appeared everything would be fine.

Unfortunately, and without our knowing, Microsoft maintained the old domain internally (even though I deleted the domain and account completely). Long story short - 3 days later (8 hours of which was on the phone) - Microsoft finally found someone who knew where the problem was and how to fix it. Thanks to a local (Tampa Bay) service provider and an amazing system admin, we were able to temporarily move to another Exchange server (Once Microsoft said they wouldn't blame the problem on our temporary solution). Microsoft basically had our business at their mercy. We (obviously) have no way to how many emails were NDR back to recipients or what this disaster cost us.

The problem is now solved and we are in the cloud. However, it seems almost impossible to believe a company the size of Microsoft would need 3 days and countless support techs to identify and resolve a routing issue within their own servers. Moreover, the fact they could suggest our business wait days to hear back from a support call, when our entire mail service was hanging in the balance is unacceptable and aggravating. I'm not just slamming Microsoft - they've been the source of my income for 17 years - it has just been a frustrating experience illustrating the pitfalls in this emerging technology.

Despite this initial experience, I must say the cloud has a world of potential. I guess sometimes these cloud-based service providers are too big and have too many disconnected departments to provide realistic solutions - which is why they will never eliminate the need for administrators, Microsoft Bootcamps and the option to run services locally.

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