Monday, January 03, 2011

Microsoft's Cloud Strikes Again

It seems Microsoft's inability to keep their cloud services online and reliable continues.  This time with Hotmail. reports that a number of users are reporting that their entire Hotmail accounts have been completely deleted without warning.

However, it's not as if Microsoft has - for whatever reason - pulled the plug on the accounts themselves. Users can still log in sans issue. However, they arrive at empty inboxes: No custom folders, no messages in "Sent" or "Deleted," nothing. As one might expect, the abruptness (and unexpectedness) of the purge has left some of Hotmail's long-time users a bit in the dark.

If I have my data on-site and backed up reliably - something *I* can control - then I know what state my data is in.  When I have to rely on someone else keeping my data safe, then if they don't know what they are doing, as in this case, what hope is there of a stable, reliable cloud with data that remains viable?

Come on Microsoft - if you're "All In" for The Cloud, this is a pretty piss-poor example of "All In".


The Outspoken Wookie


Robert Crane said...


Saving your data in the 'cloud' should not relieve you of doing backups. No matter where the data is, local or hosted you should ALWAYS backup it up as it is your. Failing to do that abdicates your recovery responsibility for which you have no recourse if problems ensue.

No IT system is 100% reliable. This applies to onsite as well as in the cloud. However rather than judging the situation on a single event I would commend examining the service over a period of time. Given the amount of information and users Hotmail handles it has generally been very reliable.

Finally, Hotmail is NOT a commercial grade service. It is a free service provided by Microsoft. If you want more reliable email services then you should consider commercial grade services that Microsoft does also offer.

As you say, if you want to control your information YOU need to take responsibility for it not simply abdicate it away because the service is 99.9% reliable. If you value YOUR data then YOU should back it up!

Robert Crane

Hilton Travis said...

G'day Robert,

While you know and I know that we need to back our own data up, many users of cloud services will assume (and believe the contracts that state) that the online provider will perform backups. They won't read the bits that say that the cloud provider isn't responsible for user data.

That's the big issue here - people NEED to be made well aware of this in big, flashing, capital letter writing when they sign up. A lot of the time this isn't happening.

I know how important backups are - that doesn't mean that even all of my clients realise how important bacvkups are. And that is *more important* when a cloud service provider stores your data - making daily backups and taking them offsite is *easy* when you have your data stored onsite. It is a lot slower, harder and more expensive when it is stored in the cloud. This is yet another thing that needs to be taken into consideration when people are looking at cloud vs onsite.

Sometimes Cloud makes sense. Sure. But sometimes onsite makes sense. We have clients wholly onsite, partially onsite and wholly in the cloud. Honestly the ones I'm most concerned about are those totally in the cloud (or who have critical business processes in the cloud) as Internet performance in Australia still isn't up to spec, and as I don't control the data nor the backups as tightly as when they are handled onsite, I have to "have faith" in some faceless, nearly impossible to contact cloud services provider and their ability to care as much about our clients' data as we do. Sometimes that faith is as hard to find as proof of any supernatural existence! :)

Robert Crane said...


I agree that more attention needs to be paid to the good practices of IT (one being backup). Just because the infrastructure goes to the cloud that doesn't suddenly remove the need for good IT practices.

However, even with on site most consumers don't backup their stuff and are probably more likely to have it backed up by cloud providers by default. The Hotmail example you detail is more around consumers than business users and as such we need to compare apples with apples.

As with anything you need to evaluate what works best for you but take the power grid as an analogy. Most people simply connect it, pay for the service and live with the occasional outage. This is far cheaper than building their own on site power station. Sure some people have generators but most don't. To me this is simply the way things will go in IT, the vast majority of services will be delivered via the cloud very reliably. There will be outages and issues as there is with all IT. There is nothing stopping you paying for additional confidence with your cloud systems and informed people will, but sadly most will not.

At the end of the day it is all about money and how little most people want to spend to get technology. The only way to achieve such price points (like electricity) is via large cloud providers. There is always rooms for alternates and hybrids but taking the wider view, they are becoming more reliable and accessible for the majority of people and this will determine the direction.

Robert Crane

Hilton Travis said...

One of the best ways for any business, especially any SMB, to get better with their IT practices is to contract a company who understands IT - both on-premise and cloud-based - and has the ability to *ALSO* understand the client's business needs. That's where many of the smaller IT consultants fall down - they may understand IT rather well, but if they can't *really* relate this to their clients' business needs, well, then they can't really be sure of doing the right thing for each client.

I totally disagree with your comment that "even with on site most consumers don't backup their stuff" - all of our clients back up their stuff and I honestly don't know I've even come across anyone who doesn't back up their stuff - even if they THINK they are but their IT company had implemented a flawed strategy, the client is still backing up (the IT company may be legally liable for lost data/time, but the client understands the need to back up).

Yes, this particular issue is around Hotmail. There have been more issues with BPOS going offline for people (even with parts of BPOS being unavailable due to **WEEKLY** offline maintenance requirements) than with Hotmail - Hotmail has been more reliable this past year than BPOS has. So there's the apples/apples comparison, also throwing in a few oranges... :)

As to power, most people have mains filters and/or UPSes onsite. They use, but don't totally trust the power grid. Those who have more stringent requirements have their own gennies.

When it comes to the Cloud, most small businesses can't afford - at today's pricing, even though it is a lot better than 2 years ago, even 1 year ago - to have a redundant link. Or so they think - if they play their cards right, they can have a redundant 3G link that (in probably 90% of cases) will be adequate during any time their regular ADSL/fiber/ethernet-over-copper connexion is offline. Again, this is where an IT consultant/provider who understands what's available and what the client's business needs are can be of great benefit to the company in question.

Most businesses still see IT as an expenditure, therefore they want to spend as little as possible on it to keep it functional. The companies who see IT as a business enabler see it in a totally different light and they are the companies who will take advantage of on-site and Cloud-based technologies and utilize them to build their businesses - and a good, redundant Internet connexion (preferably one not crippled by any brain dead "We like China" Internet Filter) will not be seen as just another IT expense...

I've been comparing Azure with Amazon Web Services for a few of our clients and I have to admit, AWS seems to have the upper hand in most areas - including cost - here.

Robert Crane said...


" all of our clients back up their stuff and I honestly don't know I've even come across anyone who doesn't back up their stuff "

My comments are about the 'broader' users of IT, i.e. consumers not those looked after by competent professionals. The number of 'average' users that never backup their stuff is mind blowing. The number who think they are backup up (including SMB) and they aren't is also very high.

My comments are not aimed at restricted markets such as 'your clients' and clients look after by competent IT Professionals (which there aren't many). My comparison is that Hotmail is like a user with a laptop (generally). Both have no concept that they need to backup their data.

I totally agree with your points however I am talking about the much broader technology user, who really should have an IT provider but doesn't or thinks they know better.

Technology that makes mainstream media comes from the average consumer not from well maintained IT systems generally. That's why it makes the news. Having reliable backups maintained by competent professionals won't make the news but it will sure save your arse!


Matt Marlor said...

By no means wanting to come across as an apologist for Microsoft, but having worked with shared hosting services for business - the cloud as such, now - it's hard not to see Microsoft as just presenting an easy and convenient target. Let's pick another target - Gmail. People certainly have lost data on that. I'm sure I could dig up an Amazon Web Services failure if I wanted to.

I'm not trying to absolve Microsoft in any way. I take data storage and backup seriously. I just want to make the point that any IT endeavour has inherent risk. I for one do not trust the cloud entirely - it has totally valid uses, but it's not the solution to everything by a long shot (certainly not how it's presented in the media). IT is as much about risk management as anything else. Business has to own their risks and mitigate them - which means not going all in to one single solution or solely trusting one provider.

But then, I still see plenty of people storing their DR backups in their primary site, or having the DR site next door. And of course small businesses getting wiped out altogether, data-wise. So I guess we're not likely to see business owning their risks anytime soon.