Service interruptions are unavoidable consequences of trusting enterprise applications to a third-party cloud provider. Microsoft is working on ways of giving IT administrators a heads-up, possibly before they face the ire of their users and bosses.
A year ago, Exchange Online, the cloud-based business email, calendar and contact management platform from Microsoft, suffered an extended outage that not only grabbed headlines, but left several of the company's customers in a holding pattern for several hours smack in the middle of the work day. Making matters worse, the Service Health Dashboard failed to reflect the problem.
Katy Olmstead, a senior marketing manager for Microsoft, acknowledged that even her company's financially backed, 99.9 percent uptime guarantee doesn't mean the cloud will always cooperate.
"As with any cloud service—and despite all our efforts—incidents can and do occur that may impact your experience," said Olmstead in a statement. "We realize that in these critical moments, it's how we respond that makes all the difference for you and your organization."
To help keep administrators in the know, Microsoft has added push notifications to the Office 365 Admin app for Windows Phone, iOS and Android. Customers in the first release ring of updates can switch on the feature now. A worldwide release will follow later, according to Olmstead.
"Now, when you are on the go and away from the Office 365 admin center, you can be alerted immediately if there is a service incident affecting your users and you're one tap away from access to important details on any actions you can take to mitigate impact," she said. "And you can stay current on the latest service health status from the same app."
More alerting options are in the works, Olmstead revealed. Microsoft plans to add customizable notifications along with Short Message Service (SMS) and email alerts to future builds of the app.
The Service Health Dashboard has also been upgraded to provide quicker and more detailed incident reporting. "Through investments in new processes, which include advanced machine learning, anomaly detection and automation, we have already reduced the time to your first alert by 60 percent in many cases," Olmstead reported. "We remain committed to reducing this even further."
Status updates now include more information, such as "the expected user experience, potential workarounds, estimated time to restoration and initial root cause analysis," Olmstead said. Administrators will also be notified of issues affecting the service while sending service requests if a problem has been previously reported by other customers.
To extend some of this visibility to service desk platforms and other applications, Microsoft released a public preview of the Office 365 Service Communications application programming interface (API).
"With this API, you now have the ability to surface critical Office 365 service communications directly within your existing help desk tools and service management solutions and simplify how you monitor across service health across your environment," Olmstead stated. Early supporters include service monitoring and management specialists BetterCloud, Cogmotive, ENow and Exoprise.