As any IT professional will know, users can be very unforgiving when it comes to system downtime. The fact that over three full days of downtime in a year still equates to greater that 99% reliability is lost on people when they have targets to meet and tasks to complete.
With this in mind, Microsoft had a rather tough week last week, when its Azure cloud service platform went down for an extended period.
The problems started on the 19th November and caused problems for Microsoft customers worldwide. As well as hitting customer websites, Microsoft’s own services were affected in some regions, particularly in Europe, where Office 365 was offline for some customers. Even home gamers were affected by outages on the xBox Live service.
Potentially unreliable service has always been at the core of arguments put forward by those who disapprove of the move towards cloud services. Microsoft advertise 99.9% reliability for the Azure service, but the reality is that whether they achieve it or not, the media will always report on the days when things go down.
For Microsoft, the timing of this particular incident couldn’t have been worse. The outage began just a short while after Microsoft had broadcasted a high-profile advertisement for Azure during a UK football match between Scotland and England. This clearly added to Microsoft’s embarrassment. In a very competitive cloud service marketplace, with options from everyone from Google to Amazon, people can quickly change their allegiances if they feel they cannot rely on the solution they have chosen.
In a BBC news report referring to the Microsoft outage, one company is quoted as asking whether “the cloud may not be mature enough to migrate an enterprise to.”
This is the very question that traditional fans of on-premise networking return to again and again. It’s not as if Microsoft are the only company that have experienced outages. In fact, back in 2013 Amazon had an (albeit short) period of downtime that was severe enough to make their own homepage disappear.
However, these companies do all invest heavily in resilience. In reality, firms who have moved to the cloud do get to use services that work the majority of the time. Staff perhaps view their old on-premise networks through rose-tinted glasses, and fool themselves that they never went down. After all, it would take a very optimistic and foolhardy IT professional to offer anybody 100% reliability.
Even so, on an increasingly competitive playing field, perception is everything. Unfair though it may be, potential customers will remember the last high-profile system failure, and likely move the offending company to the bottom of their provider list. With the curse of Windows 8 already clouding many people’s views of Microsoft, they seem to have some serious work to do right now.