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Microsoft Hotmail, Outlook, SkyDrive problems could hurt customer confidence

Is it really a good idea to trust the cloud?

Microsoft paints a rosy picture of customers storing documents and other data in the cloud so they are accessible from any Internet-connected device, but yesterday’s outage of its mail and storage services should make anybody rethink the proposition.

These services are potentially great if the technology delivers on the features Microsoft promises, but availability is key. It’s no good to have email and files queued up and ready to go in a data center somewhere if there is no way to get them delivered.

BACKGROUND: Microsoft has access issues with Hotmail, Outlook, SkyDrive services

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Certainly super-critical information that must be available all the time can’t live only in the cloud because outages are inevitable, but at what point does a customer decide there’s just too much downtime to trust even less critical data?

The timing is unfortunate for the email outages in Hotmail and Outlook since the company is in the midst of transferring customers from Hotmail to Outlook.com. Since that transition is ongoing, it’s possible the outage and the transition are related. Regardless, if customers think the outage indicates a serious reliability problem, they could decide to move to another free email service like Gmail.

As for SkyDrive, Microsoft is pushing customers hard to adopt it. It comes with Office 365 and there’s a SkyDrive app included in Windows 8. It is the backbone of the Microsoft vision of synching folders in the cloud so they are available to any device so long as the user has the credentials to authenticate.

So imagine last night during the outage, a customer might have tried to get at a Word document that was stored in SkyDrive and would have been denied “adding, editing or removing files” – pretty much anything someone might want to do with a file. Reactions to this can range from disappointment to panic depending on what the document was and what needed to be done with it. Even if there was no real harm done such an incident plants the seed that the service could happen again with more severe consequences.

And that properly should encourage people to reconsider using cloud services and what they use them for. Chances are they did before adopting them in the first place and they may well come to the same conclusion upon review, but it’s an exercise worth making in order to be sure the such services are still useful given the possibility they may become unavailable for hours on end.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/1058 blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

More on Microsoft:

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Microsoft buys a starring role for its Surface tablet on TV’s 'Suburgatory'

Microsoft bets the farm on Metro 

Windows Server 2012 isn't available yet, but it's running Bing

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This Windows 8 tablet might actually be a PC

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