Cloud Troubles: 17 Hour Office 365 OneDrive Outage And Interruption Shines The Spotlight On Need For Business Continuity

A 17-hour intermittent Microsoft Office 365 outage that prevented some customers from accessing their OneDrive accounts, coupled with two hours of login problems, is driving home the need for cloud-focused business continuity services, according to solution providers.

Tony Pompliano, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based managed cloud provider ANEXIO, a Microsoft Azure partner and Office 365 reseller, said the outage has customers once again grappling with the trade-offs between high uptime and cost.

"There are always ways to ensure nearly no downtime," Pompliano said. With an application suite like Office 365, which involves architecting redundancy by maintaining licensed software and synced storage running on-premises, it can get very expensive, he said.

[Related: The 10 Biggest Cloud Outages of 2016]

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Pompliano said he didn't see any customers experience problems Tuesday, though some called because they heard reports of the outage and wanted to verify the health of their systems.

Clients often start with the mantra of requiring five nines of reliability – allowing networks and applications five minutes of downtime a year, including maintenance.

"When they realize how expensive it is, they begin to say, how much would it cost for 'three nines' or 'two nines,'" Pompliano told CRN, "and every business has to find the balance for themselves."

Like any other services interruption, be it power or cable, users get frustrated because they don't know the extent of the problem or time by which it will be resolved. But providers typically can't answer those questions in the midst of an outage as their trying to diagnose the cause and find a fix, he said.

Microsoft has yet to release a post-mortem of the failure. A spokesperson told CRN: ’Some people may have experienced difficulties logging in to some services. All services have been fully restored.’

The OneDrive intermittent failure came just six days after "storage availability" issues plagued Microsoft's Azure public cloud for eight hours and 10 minutes.

In that case, Microsoft said its engineering team identified a "storage cluster that lost power and became unavailable" as the preliminary cause of the storage issues which affected the Eastern U.S.

Several Office 365 resellers told CRN they didn't see any of their customers affected by the outage. Those impacted used Microsoft Managed Service Accounts to sign-in to their cloud services – a less common authentication method for enterprise customers, those partners told CRN.

The outage appears to have only impacted services that relied on MSA accounts, previously called "LiveID" identities by Microsoft, said Reed Wiedower, chief technology officer at New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C.

MSAs, installed on individual, on-premises computers, are a contrast to "OrgIDs" that leverage Azure Active Directory for authentication, providing more flexible sign-on mechanisms. Most Office 365, Dynamics 365, Azure and EMS customers use Azure AD, and those customers didn't see problems, Wiedower told CRN.

"Our enterprise customers don’t rely upon MSA accounts and thus weren’t impacted yesterday, and increasingly are using AzureAD for authentication instead of a hybrid model," he said.

Enterprises are trending away from authentication protocols that depend on on-premises components, like MSAs, because they create single points of failure that could prevent access to cloud services, he said.

Eric Martorano, senior vice president of worldwide sales for Intermedia, a Mountain View, Calif. cloud services provider, No. 189 on the CRN SP500, said Intermedia is seeing an uptick in demand for its email continuity solution in the wake of the Office 365 outage.

"As we know email has become a critical and integral part of how businesses communicate and organizations are increasingly reliant on it to function," Martorano said. "Essentially if email fails, the impact on productivity can be instant and devastating. While 99.9 percent uptime may be adequate for some, businesses that rely heavily on email – or users that use email constantly as part of their normal workflow – need maximum availability, and this provides a significant opportunity for the partner community."

Intermedia's Email Continuity for Office 365 is designed to eliminate downtime in the event of an outage of a customer’s primary Office 365 Exchange Online service.

A top executive for one of Microsoft's top cloud solution providers, who did not want to be identified, said the outage provides a compelling opportunity for partners to provide high-value Office 365 cloud architecture and business continuity services.

"This is an opportunity for the channel to help customers design configure optimize and support Office 365," the executive said. "It points once again to the need for partners to provide more consulting services around authentication and redundancy for Office 365."

The OneDrive intermittent failures started on Tuesday, 12:15 p.m. EDT and lasted until Wednesday 4:50 a.m. EDT, nearly 17 hours, according to the Microsoft Office 365 Service Health dashboard.

OneDrive is Microsoft's online cloud storage service that is integrated with Office365. The One Drive services allows users to access Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents in the cloud.

Under the title "Couldn't Sign into OneDrive," Microsoft said that some customers, "after signing into One Drive" were "unable to access their content. As the issue was intermittent in nature, users may have been able to reload the page or make another attempt successfully."

Microsoft email, meanwhile, was inaccessible for some customers from 12:15 p.m. EST on March 21 to 2:30 p.m. EST., more than two hours.

Under the title "Can't Sign Into," Microsoft said on its Office365 Service Health Dashboard that users "may have been intermittently unable to sign into the service."

Steve Burke contributed to this report.