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Microsoft Exchange Online users reporting more cloud access problems

On September 7, I began receiving notes from several customers of Microsoft's hosted Online Services -- which include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Communications Online, Live Meeting and the BPOS bundle of these services -- of new and troubling access problems.

My post late last week about unplanned downtime for Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) seemingly has opened the floodgates for more similar reports.

On September 7, I began receiving notes from several customers of Microsoft's hosted Online Services -- which include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Communications Online, Live Meeting and the BPOS bundle of these services -- of yet more access problems.

Today's outage, which several users have told me is still ongoing (at 6:30 p.m. ET) after at least three hours, seems to be related to Exchange Online, Microsoft's hosted version of Exchange Server.

"We are currently experiencing an Exchange online outage. It started around 3:30PM EST today and as of this moment is still on going," said one IT user who contacted me and requested anonymity.

This user said his organization switched to BPOS three months ago and have experienced three outages since signing up. (One of these was in late August, one in early September and one today.)

"So far our BPOS experience has been somewhat frustrating and I am hoping Microsoft gets their act together soon," the customer added.

I've asked Microsoft what's causing the recent spate of Online Services outages and was told late last week that an unspecified network issue was at fault. I asked again today for further details and have received no information so far.

Microsoft officials notified North American customers on September 7 that the company was experiencing possible limited service for its Microsoft-hosted services earlier today, but said problems were resolved as of 1 p.m. (not sure which time zone). At 4:30, Microsoft sent customers another note telling them the same services had been restored.

Update: Not too many more details, but this just in from a Microsoft spokesperson:

“We experienced two brief service issues today affecting a portion of users in North America. From 8:40am– 9:05am PST, and then at 1:50pm for about 15 minutes, some users may have experienced slower network connectivity, which mostly affected the sign-In service. Network performance is now back to normal, and the root cause is under investigation. We have updated our customers about this issue and apologize for any inconvenience this incident may have caused them.

"We consistently look for ways to improve service reliability and recovery. We have a dedicated team taking a closer look at everything from hardware, to upgrade plans, to forensic data and increased monitoring. We take our responsibility to provide 24/7 access to customer data seriously, and we are dedicating necessary resources to fulfill that responsibility.”

Microsoft has scheduled maintenance for Exchange Online and SharePoint Online in North America this coming Saturday, September 11. The planned maintenance period begins at 4 a.m. GMT and may last through 10 p.m. GMT, company officials have told customers.

One of my readers who has helped his customers with Microsoft's Online Services claims that the late August outage may have been due to someone at Microsoft misconfiguring a switch. The reader said the early September outage was caused by "a misconfiguration of the switch fabric for Exchange," which is the crux of a number of Microsoft's other cloud pieces, he added.

"The idea of a cloud architecture being unreliable is both (a) contradictory and (b) common," noted that reader, who asked not to be identified.

As I noted late last week, I, too, know cloud services outages are common -- and not just in Microsoft's case. Because this blog is "All About Microsoft," I am focusing on Microsoft's infrastructure and how it affects its customers.

Anyone else hit by the latest Microsoft cloud-service outage and hearing any possible explanations as to what's going on?