Microsoft explains recent hosted e-mail outages

Four incidents have slowed down or stopped e-mail access for some users in the Americas

Microsoft offered some details about outages that have plagued its hosted e-mail customers in the Americas over the past week.

In a blog post issued after business hours on Thursday, Microsoft described four separate issues that occurred this week that prevented or delayed e-mail delivery.

The first started at 9:30 in the morning Tuesday on the West Coast when "malformed e-mail traffic" stopped the e-mail service from working, despite a capability in the service designed to handle such traffic, Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online Service, wrote on the blog. Microsoft isolated the problem traffic at noon but customers faced total delays of six to nine hours for e-mail delivery.

On Thursday, a similar issue with malformed traffic hit at 9:10 a.m. and again at 11:35 a.m. The second issue resulted in the backup of 1.5 million messages waiting to be delivered. That meant some customers may have experienced e-mail delivery delays of as long as three hours, he said.

The final incident happened on Thursday afternoon with a Domain Name Service failure on the site that hosts Web access to Outlook in the Americas. The issue prevented users from accessing Outlook Web Access and impacted some functions of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync devices. That problem took about four hours to fix.

Microsoft will issue service credits to affected customers and plans to update its communications process for customers. "We feel we could have communicated earlier and been more specific," Thompson wrote.

He also mentioned that customers can call the support line for help any time, although some people on Thursday said they had trouble reaching anyone on the help line. A moderator on a forum where people complained about the outages wrote that a problem in the phone system presented callers with a message that said the offices were closed, while the message should have instructed callers that all support lines were busy.

On the forum and in the comments after the blog post, a number of people complained about the lack of information about the outage, with some saying that they regret moving to the hosted service and others who say they plan to take e-mail back in-house as a result of such outages.

"As an IT professional, I have lost confidence in the service. And not just me .... my CFO, and all the other IT Managers all throughout the world that keep complaining to me about the service. We went from an in-house Exchange system to hand it over to someone who we felt could do a much better job than us. So far, that has not been the case," one user wrote after the blog post. "Step it up, or you will lose many many customers. My migration to Office365 might actually be going to a different provider." Office365 is Microsoft's next-generation hosted service that will replace the current offering.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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