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Microsoft fixes a nine hour Office 365 service outage

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June 25, 2014

Microsoft said earlier this morning that it has fixed a nine-hour service outage in its online Exchange service that crippled North American customers’ Office 365 and hosted Outlook accounts.

The service outage struck companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, leaving entire organizations unable to read, write or retrieve emails or seeing their email slow down to a snail's pace.

Users manned the Office 365 community message boards and Twitter accounts to complain and vent out their frustration, singling out a flat-footed response from both Microsoft’s technical and customer service staff dealing with the issues.

Customers were angry at being kept on hold by customer support for up to two hours at a time and at not being given a set ETA.

Microsoft finally announced that the issues were resolved late Tuesday evening Eastern time.

David Zhang of Microsoft support told the Office 365 community message board-- “Our investigation determined that a portion of the networking infrastructure entered into a degraded state. Our engineers made some configuration changes on the affected capacity to resolve end-user impact. The issue was successfully fixed on June 24, 2014 at 9:50 PM EST.”

Zhang also issued the boilerplate corporate apology for any inconvenience caused but he could offer little to satisfy users or downplay the magnitude of the problem.

During the day, Jim1001 wrote on the Office 365 community page-- “Our entire corporation cannot send or receive emails from Outlook (Office 365 Exchange) or even the OWA web browser as of 8 AM MST time this morning June 24, 2014! I have never seen a world-wide email go down like this before.

MadBuffalo wrote-- “Office 365 is beginning to look like a very poor choice for mission critical services.”

Trec posted-- "Tried to contact support by phone, and after a half hour, the call was dropped on both occasions. It seems the support guys are saturated and there are not enough staff for an huge issue like this one."

For many, it was the second outage to Microsoft’s business-cloud service in less than 24 hours and it was proving way too much.

Additionally, Monday saw Lync Online, Microsoft’s unified communications service, slow down and crash.

Lync provides voice over IP, corporate instant messaging, presence, meetings and video conferencing.

Problems surfaced around 11 am EST and were addressed by the Microsoft Lync team via Twitter later in the afternoon.

Service was restored by 5.30 pm EST. MMS Infotech on Twitter blamed the problem on a botched data centre migration by Microsoft technicians, moving the relevant network infrastructure.

In other IT news

IT services provider Unisys is the latest firm to test the waters at converged infrastructure, or something that looks very similar.

To be sure, Unisys actually walked away from proprietary silicon about ten years ago, concentrating instead on x86-powered ClearPath mini mainframes instead.

In 2013, the company unveiled the first of a new range of servers named “Forward” and today added four more models to its portfolio.

Models 4150 and 4120 use the Xeon E7 CPU and offer up to 48 and 60 processor cores, respectively, per node.

The new 2080 and 2100 feature the Xeon E5 2600 v2, support up to 16 and 20 processor cores and up to 12 partitions per node, with 384 gigabytes of memory per partition.

These rigs' nodes connect with an Infiniband backplane connecting them together. Storage can come from NetApp or EMC, but everything is sold in pre-configured and signed-off sets in much the same manner as an Oracle's appliances or other converged infrastructure setups.

'Forward' is aimed at applications like ERP that need scale, stability and a vendor with a track record of running mission critical apps at scale.

Unisys' talk of partitions is a reference to sPar, a mainframe-derived partitioning tool that the company now says offers containerisation.

Unisys' own twist on the concept Docker has recently made it so popular to run different operating system instances on one processor, without a hypervisor.

As explained by Vic Herring, Unisys' Australia's ClearPath product manager for APAC and Japan, s-Par can tap into Intel's VT-x instructions directly.

This arrangement delivers the resource-allocation fun of virtualisation, but with a lesser overhead.

Just last week in fact, Unisys made some research available proclaiming that s-Par and Forward on NetApp storage deliver better and more stable throughput than “an industry-standard virtualisation hypervisor.

s-Par is currently bundled with Forward, but Herring told us that will change by the end of 2014 when Unisys publishes reference architectures allowing would-be customers to run up their own servers.

At that point, s-Par will become something one can buy as traditional software. With interest in containerisation running popular right now, Unisys will have a job to do explaining how its own version of the technology differs from Docker's and similar efforts.

In other IT news

It's reported that Russia's government is planning to drop Intel and AMD processors in favor of locally-developed ARM central processing units.

This would suggest that 3 state-owned Russian hardware companies are forming a partnership to develop what will soon be dubbed “Baikal”.

The newly proposed initiative would use ARM's 64-bit kernel Cortex A-57 processor as its base design, offer at least eight cores, and would be built with a 28 nm process.

The new ARM processor would run at about 2 GHz or more in PCs or servers. It's assumed that Baikal will be delivered to the authorities and state-owned companies sometime in 2014.

Russia's ”central state information agency” ITR-TASS writes that Baikal “will be installed on computers of government bodies and in state-run firms, which purchase some 700,000 personal computers annually worth about $500 million and 300,000 servers worth another $800 million.”

ITR-TASS adds that Baikal will find its home in computers run by state-owned entities, suggesting that there's a national security angle behind the decision.

That's didn't stop blogging site Phoronix from declaring that “For strict security enthusiasts believing AMD and Intel have been compromised by the NSA or other U.S. agencies, it's time to celebrate.”

Setting aside that kind of thinking, a move to 64-bit ARM processing by entities that collectively acquire a million devices a year would be significant simply because of the scale it would give ARM-based servers and PCs in Russia.

But currently, such devices are largely hypothetical to say the least. However, with Amazon Web Services, Google and Facebook all reported to be considering their own ARM designs to keep their servers' operating costs down, general interest in that concept is considerable.

And understandably, startups are having a go as well-- at Computex recently, we met Cavium, a new vendor of 48-core chips that it's aiming mostly at the low-end server market.

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To be sure, Cavium's staff includes some people from failed ARM chipmaker Calxeda, who told us last week they feel that effort didn't work simply because not enough enterprise software runs on ARM.

That's no longer quite such an issue, however. If Russia follows this path, and the rules of open source engage in a significant manner, that problem could disappear rather quickly.

In other IT news

Ask any experienced programmer and they will tell you that it's a job that involves very long hours sitting in front of a screen, typing characters and code on a keyboard while trying to ignore people having a good time outside, enjoying life to its fullest.

It's probably one of the main reasons why young women aren't drawn to become computer programmers, and can you blame them?

With that in mind, Google has launched a new $50 million initiative to encourage young women in getting involved in the lucrative world of coding, even tough some may still find it a bit boring.

“Very soon, programming is a basic skill that’s going to be a part of almost everything,” said Megan Smith, vice president of R&D at the Google X Lab.

“So at a minimum, for youngsters to be able to express themselves in code and make things and feel confident, that would be important — no matter what their career is,” she added.

Google also launched the Made With Code website, showcasing all the interesting things which can be produced by coding.

The website clearly emphasises community and friendship, showing young women that they can be successful if they become a computer programmer.

But like anything else that's truly worthwhile, there's a long way to get there-- and that simply won't happen overnight.

According to Google's in-house numbers, just 0.4 percent of American young women choose to major in computer science.

"Television and movie pop culture often depicts computer science as all about sitting in a dark room, in front of a small screen, processing cascades of numbers and code," Google warned.

Source: Microsoft.

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