What is your Contingency Plan for an Exchange Online Outage?

As a business, if you were to have an Exchange Online outage, it’s sensible to have a Contingency Plan set in place so that if a disaster strikes you are not just sitting around waiting for your emails to return.

Since the release of Office 365 Exchange Online, there has been both minor and major outages of the service each year, this is often at unfortunate moments.

Examples of these unfortunate outages are;

  • Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Orlando in 2015, where the email service went down for several hours.
  • Back in December 2015 due to a misconfiguration error from a Microsoft engineer with Azure at an event in Europe (this had affected the Office 365 customers which rely on Azure for identity management and more).
  • Finally, back on 30th June 2016, there was an outage which had affected some North American customers for up to 9 hours! Unfortunately, this was on the final day of the sales quarter!

With all this going on many people will say “well, that’s the risk of going to the cloud and when things go down, they go down… and you wait!” this might appear to be true for some situations.

However, what if there is an alternative when it comes to Exchange Online. What if it was to go down your businesses users were able to continue to work and not even realise that there has been an outage. A pretty neat trick, especially if you are the one who suggested that the Business moves to Exchange Online and don’t wish to explain why there was an outage.

Plan A or Plan B
What is the solution?

By attaching Mimecast onto the front end of your Exchange or Exchange Online, you have essentially pointed the MX records into Mimecast and then set up send/receive otherwise known as the outgoing/incoming connectors so that you can have the mail flow between the two. All of this allows Mimecast to perform enterprise grade security along with an extra archive data bank storing emails coming and going.

Exchange

Mimecast have their own MTA which means in an event of a occurring problem with/on the email server (Exchange or Exchange Online) the admin will simply kick off the continuity event through the Mimecast administration portal and then the mail flow will be completely handled on the Mimecast side. Then your Businesses end users will be able to continue to send and receive emails in one of three ways;

  1. Through Outlook via the Mimecast plugin
  2. Through the Mimecast mobile app
  3. Finally, through the Mimecast web portal

For IT admins, one of the biggest challenges they face every day with regards to the availability of the Office 365 suite services is transparency. It is often the case when end users will start to complain about the loss of the services, even though IT admins do not receive an alert from their Office 365 admin centre. While the IT admin might see all green their end, the Businesses end users faces are all red.

When these problems occur, IT admin are likely to turn to Social Media outlets to find out if it is only their Business is having the problem meaning its an internal issue or if other Business have similar problems then its a chance it is on Microsoft’s side. Although, in Microsoft’s defence there appears to be quite a lot going on their end and while a customer might go down or groups customers, depending on the type of outage and the extent it’s not the right time to throw out the red flag.

However, for those who are down, they need more transparency. Monitoring these types of outage’s is starting to become more difficult as Microsoft breaks their customers into separate segments, which is ultimately obscuring the true extent of an outage.

To increase the need for better transparency, Mimecast has been raising their game in the continuity space by adding in Continuity Event Management or CEM.

A key element of CEM is the ability to monitor your businesses connection to Exchange Online on a regular basis via looking for possible problems. Mimecast completes this by using an ‘organic’ inbound check (can your SMTP server receive mail?) and a ‘synthetic’ outbound check (can your SMTP server send mail?)

In an event of a problem an alert gets sent through SMS or to an alternate email (this will be due to your primary email being down) and you will been given a panic button to manage the alert. By pushing this button it will implement the Mimecast continuity mode for your Business, then you will be able to go back to whatever tasks you were completing before the alert with the complete knowledge that everyone is fine.

Mailbox Continuity

Finally, the truth be told that problems can happen. Whether it is your Businesses Cloud infrastructure breaking down sometimes, if you have been impacted by a cloud disruption, then you are not alone.  Whereas if you haven’t (yet), your Businesses Cloud infrastructure’s are not immune.

So, what’s your contingency plan?  What do you do when Exchange Online goes down at once or only a section?  If your answer is to ‘fold your arms and wait for Microsoft to fix it’ then that is the choice you are making.  Bare in mind this isn’t the only choice you have, you could choose to have a plan b. An email continuity solution that can keep your employees sending and receiving email, despite the outage.

You do have a choice.