Microsoft Exchange Online Users See Slowdowns -- Again

Just like gremlins, Microsoft's Exchange Online problems that surfaced last week appear to have come back, if only as a reminder of what some say is the danger of enterprises trusting all of their services to the cloud.

A week after Microsoft thought it had fixed problems with some users of Microsoft's Exchange Online service experiencing outages, the problems appear to be back -- if less severe than before.

Exchange Online is a key part of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) of services, providing email in the cloud for millions of subscribers.

Last week, Microsoft scrambled multiple times to end glitches in the service that plagued many users with lack of email deliveries for as many as nine or more hours all told.

"On Tuesday [May 10] and today we experienced three separate service issues that impacted customers served from our Americas data center. All of these issues have been resolved and the service is now running smoothly," Dave Thompson, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Online Services, said in a post that was part apology and part early post mortem on May 12 to the Microsoft Online Services Team Blog.

The problems were related to a routing hub not properly dealing with what Thompson referred to as "malformed email traffic," even though Exchange is specifically designed to deal with such issues.

"We know that email is a critical part of your business communication, and my team and I fully recognize our responsibility as your partner and service provider," Thompson's post said.

"To enable faster recovery time from backlogged message queues, we have already added and continue to add more hub server capacity and have deployed a software update to all datacenters to improve how BPOS handles malformed email messages," Thompson continued.

However, on Thursday, May 19, according to new reports by tech blogger Mary Jo Foley, similar issues have cropped up again, though they are apparently taking less time to deliver messages as last week.

"Noticing emails not getting to people, sent one hours ago to another Exchange user and he still hasn't got it, and had some users complain, seems like trouble again!" said one user comment on Microsoft's Online Services Techcenter midmorning on Thursday.

"Same here. I filed a ticket. I think this is going to be BPOS's third strike for us," responded another frustrated user.

This is not the first time that Microsoft's BPOS offering has had outages. For instance, it issued a public apology to users who were impacted by an outage last summer.

Microsoft's problems follow Amazon's recent outages of its own cloud services in late April.

"There are still a lot of bumps to overcome [with cloud services]," Troy Werelius, CEO and president of Exchange disaster recovery and data protection vendor Lucid8, told "These outages can take thousands and thousands of people out of work," he added.

Besides the apology and system upgrades, Thompson also said Microsoft will give affected users a service credit.

Perhaps ironically, the latest outage comes the day after Microsoft trumpeted that the city and county of San Francisco have signed up to replace their in-house email systems with Exchange Online.

"Today, Microsoft learned of intermittent mail flow issues affecting one percent of Exchange Online users. Currently all new inbound and outbound messages are delivering as expected; however there is a small percentage that remain in the queue awaiting delivery. Full resolution of the issue is expected shortly," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email to

Despite the problems, some observers, albeit interested parties, are optimistic about cloud services' future.

"Microsoft (like Amazon and Google in their recent issues) is showing that it learns from each event. It's interesting to see every provider go through this learning curve," Nick Mehta, CEO of Exchange archiving and hosting vendor LiveOffice, told in an email.

Werelius agreed.

"Microsoft is tenacious. If they don't get it right, they're like a bulldog," he added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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