Handling Office 365 Email Hiccups: Take Control to Ensure Email Continuity

By on Aug 11, 2015

This blog was written by David Bull, McAfee’s former Director, Enterprise Solution Marketing.

Email is one of those things that most of us can’t live without—and when it goes down, regardless of whether it’s hosted in-house or in the cloud, it can seriously halt business continuity and productivity and can even affect revenues.

A case in point is this summer’s global Microsoft Office 365 outage. Microsoft customers and partners were unable to send and receive emails for more than five hours. The impact was global—“across the pond” in the UK, approximately 3,000 users in the Houses of Parliament were left without email for 13 hours. These incidents point to the recent growing pains that have plagued Office 365 since its release—and we can probably expect to see more of the same in the future.

It’s unlikely that these types of outages will stop businesses from migrating to cloud-based Office 365, as the service has so many business advantages, but events like these will undoubtedly motivate IT teams to investigate email continuity strategies and solutions. Any move to cloud-based services will inevitably mean less control than you might have with an on-premises email server, but there are some measures you can take to ensure email uptime as you make the switch to Office 365.

The Many Flavors of Email Continuity

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of different levels of email continuity, so that you can decide what will work best for you in the event of an Office 365 email outage.

Basic email spooling ensures that all of your messages will be intact—nothing will be lost. However, users won’t have access to spooled emails during an outage. When email service is restored, the spooled emails will be delivered to the server, and only then can users access messages. Obviously, this will put a crimp in productivity and potentially impact your bottom line. This type of solution is not true email continuity.

For true email continuity, look for an advanced email security solution that allows users to access spooled emails for longer durations (which can vary widely, from a maximum of 48 hours to a maximum of 60 days) during an outage via a secure web interface, with complete capabilities, including read, compose, reply, forward, and delete. Maximum durations are particularly important when it comes to extended outages, as you will start losing email after that time limit. You also want to be sure that your emails are retained for the duration because even if your email service resumes, it may not be 100% stable right away. This is essential, particularly if you are using hybrid Exchange during natural disasters, such as an earthquake or hurricane, enabling people to communicate and focus on life-critical priorities until services are fully restored, which may take some time.

Manual or Automatic?

Some solutions require manual activation, which has its obvious downsides. More sophisticated solutions will automatically detect when the email server is down and then will kick into gear. Generally, these advanced solutions also offer a manual activation option, which comes in handy when you want to schedule an outage for email server maintenance or upgrades.

On Premises or in the Cloud?

Some solutions require on-premises hardware to spool email, while others carry out that function in an elastic cloud environment. While a hardware-based solution may sound good on the surface as it provides a certain level of control, what happens in a worst-case scenario like Hurricane Katrina, where your hardware may be rendered nonfunctional? Remote servers may solve that problem, but with a flexible cloud solution, there’s no need to purchase and maintain expensive hardware and or worry about spikes in server CPU usage.

Outage? What Outage?

Ultimately, the best litmus test for email continuity is transparency. If there’s an outage and users don’t notice any problems with their email, you’ve done your job right.

Boost Office 365 Security

Want to know more about cloud-based email security and continuity?

  • Sign up for our August 13 webcast, McAfee Tech Talk: Strengthening the Security of Office 365, featuring David Bull, Director, Product Marketing, McAfee. Key topics include:
    • How to identify common security pitfalls and what you can do about them.
    • How email continuity can protect your organization from outage events.
    • How to assess your company’s susceptibility to phishing attempts.
  • Download the McAfee SaaS Email Protection & Continuity data sheet. Beyond continuity, layering security in front of Office 365 can provide stronger protection against spam, phishing, and malware.

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