Microsoft BPOS cloud suite hit by access problems

Access to various Microsoft hosted software products for businesses in North America was affected due to a performance issue with its data center in the region on Monday.

The problem lasted more than two hours, between 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time, and impacted “some customers in North America” who experienced “intermittent access to our data center,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“The outage was caused by a network issue that is now fully resolved, and service has returned to normal. During the duration of the issue, customers were updated regularly via our normal communication channels. We sincerely apologize to our customers for any inconvenience this incident may have caused them,” reads the statement.

Earlier, Microsoft alerted potentially affected customers with a notice distributed via a syndicated feed, which stated that customers could experience “timeouts” with a number of hosted services, including Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Online. Also among the services impacted were the Administration Center, Sign-In application, My Company Portal and Customer Portal of Microsoft Online Services, according to the alert.

“We are investigating a performance issue which may impact connectivity to the North American data center. Users may experience timeouts with multiple services,” the notice read.

The problems didn’t go unnoticed among users, some of whom commented about the situation in the official Microsoft Online Services discussion forums. Some of those posting on the forums complained about other recent outages and performance problems, as well as about sluggish communication about the issues from Microsoft.

The BPOS Standard software suite is intended for enterprise collaboration and communication and is hosted by Microsoft and sold with partners. It includes Exchange Online, Office SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting, all of which come with a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee.

As more companies consider and implement “cloud” software hosted in vendor premises and accessed via the Internet, the issue of the performance, availability and reliability of these applications remains a concern. This is primarily because IT departments have little or no control whenever this type of vendor-hosted software becomes partially or completely unavailable due to slowdowns or outages in external data centers. With their hands tied, IT departments must still field complaints from their frustrated users.

Despite the downsides, the popularity of cloud software continues to rise, because it allows IT departments to hand over to vendors the often tedious work of maintaining and troubleshooting the software, and lets companies cut down on hardware costs.