Blog

April 19, 2017

 

What’s Your Contingency Plan for an Exchange Online Outage?  

This winter was sitting in a hotel room in Boston watching a blizzard fall outside my window.  Not the worst situation I could be in (as I sipped my cup of coffee).  At some point the news flashed a number at the bottom of my screen for folks to call if the power went out.  If the power goes out?  Now that would have changed my comfy scenario pretty quick and I jotted that number down just in case I needed a contingency plan.  Does the hotel have a generator?  Where are the emergency exits (elevators would be out).  A moment ago I was enjoying the snowfall, but now I’m thinking ahead because…well…things happen.

Things happen.  And it’s smart to have a contingency plan in play to ensure you aren’t just a standby victim waiting for the lights to come back on (or in the case of Exchange Online, for your email to come back up).  In the years that Office 365’s Exchange Online has been available there have been major and minor outages of the service each year, often at inopportune times (as if there is an opportune time to lose email).  I think of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Orlando in 2015 where the email service was down for several hours.  Or the December 2015 event that hit Europe due to a misconfiguration error of a Microsoft engineer with Azure (which affected the Office 365 customers that rely on Azure for identity management and such).  Or the June 30th, 2016 outage that affected some North American customers for up to 9 hours!  Last day of the sales quarter! 

Some say, “well, that’s the risk of going to the cloud and when things go down, they go down… and you wait!” That may be true of some things.  But what if I told you there was an alternative when it comes to Exchange Online.  What if I told you that when it goes down (and it DOES go down) your users could continue to work and not even know there was an outage.  A pretty nifty trick, especially if you’re the one who proposed the move to Exchange Online and don’t want to have to explain the outage (or lack of ability to do anything other than fold your arms and wait for Microsoft to fix it).

The solution?  Mimecast’s Continuity for Exchange/Exchange Online 

The way this works is brilliant.  When you bolt Mimecast on to the front end of your Exchange or Exchange Online, you basically have the MX records pointing in to Mimecast and then set up send/receive (aka outgoing/incoming) connectors to have mail flow between the two.  That allows Mimecast to perform enterprise grade security scrubbing along with an optional archive data bank storing emails coming and going.  In addition, Mimecast has their own MTA so in the event a problem occurs on the email server itself (Exchange or Exchange Online) the admin simply has to kick off a continuity event in their Mimecast administration portal and mail flow is now completely handled on the Mimecast side (with a 100% SLA).  End users can continue to send and receive email in one of three ways:  through Outlook if they have the Mimecast plugin for Outlook, through their Mimecast mobile app and/or through a Mimecast web portal.

One of the biggest challenges facing IT admins these days with regard to availability of the Office 365 suite of services is transparency.  It’s often the case that end users start to complain about a loss of services but the IT admin doesn’t see an alert from within their Office 365 admin center.  Everything is showing up green, but their end users faces are all red.  The IT admin turns to Twitter or Reddit or other social media outlets to try to determine if the problem is on the company side or Microsoft’s side.  In Microsoft’s defense there is quite a bit happening on their end and while one customer might be down or a grouping of customers, depending on the extent and type of outage, it isn’t time to throw out a red flag just yet.  But for those customers who are down, they need more transparency.  However, monitoring this type of outage is becoming increasingly more difficult as Microsoft breaks users into separate pods, ultimately obscuring the true extent of an outage.

To address the need for better transparency, Mimecast is up’ing its game in the continuity space by adding in Continuity Event Management or CEM.  One of the key elements to CEM is the ability to monitor your connection to Exchange Online on a continuous basis looking for possible problems.  It does this using an ‘organic’ inbound check (can my SMTP server receive mail) and a ‘synthetic’ outbound check (can my SMTP server send mail).  In the event of a problem an alert gets sent through SMS or to an alternate email (logically because your primary is down) and you’re basically given a panic button to manage the alert.  Push the button, invoke the Mimecast continuity mode for your people, go back to whatever it was you were doing before the alert with the knowledge that your people are fine.

In Conclusion:

Truth be told, things happen.  You know it.  Cloud infrastructure breaks down sometimes.  If you’ve been impacted by a cloud disruption, you’re not alone.  And if you haven’t (yet), you’re not immune. So what’s your contingency plan?  What do you do when Exchange Online goes out in whole or in part?  If your answer is ‘fold your arms and wait for Microsoft to fix it’ that’s a choice you’re making.  It’s not the only choice you have.  You could choose to have a plan b. An email continuity solution that can keep your people sending and receiving email, despite the outage.

You have a choice.

 

See how Mimecast can make email safer for your business. Schedule a demo today!

FILED IN

Dealing With Email Disruptions

by David Hood - Director, Technology Marketing, Mimecast

April 3, 2017

  Mimecast recently completed a global survey on Exchange Online and the general importance of email across organizations with between 250 and 10,000 email users. We found that email continues to be the primary communication channel at these companies, with 98% of respondents saying they use email.

 

I like to joke that 2% must be lying as I can’t imagine a business today not relying on email. Mimecast also found that 87% of organizations view email as critical, underscoring the need to make sure a plan B exists for when a primary mail server experiences a disruption.

Complete email disruptions are infrequent, but have a large impact on a business. Especially if the disruption occurs during working hours and during critical periods such as the end of the month.

Planning for a continuity event or disruption is relatively easy, provided the right solution is in place to act as a secondary delivery path and the proper communication to employees has been set up. Mimecast’s goal of making email safer for business includes the necessary planning tools and technology to make this possible.

In terms of planning, it’s important to remember that primary server disruptions can happen for a host of reasons, whether the server is running on-premises or in the cloud. For cloud services, problems can be a local disruption that takes a few tenants offline or a broad event that impacts a region. In March, Microsoft and Office 365 had a couple of reported web service outages. For on-prem servers surprise events do happen and planned events such as migrations and upgrades can also take email offline for a period of time.

Regardless of the reason, communicating with employees is key so proper expectations are set and any alternative methods for continuing to send and receive email are well understood. Mimecast recommends establishing a pre-event checklist (which is provided to customers in the Mimecast Continuity Planning Manual) for a potential email disruption and ensuring that the organization has satisfied all requirements. This should include an “off email” communication channel to notify employees if there is an issue. It’s easy to overlook this simple step!

With the pre-event checklist in place, organizations should test the plan and solution regularly. It’s important to remember that to be successful, a continuity for email solution will need to incorporate technology, administrator and employee actions. Planning and testing will facilitate coordination of all three.

Mimecast recently added Continuity Event Management (CEM) features to make coordinated activity and continuity response even easier. CEM allows administrators to monitor inbound and outbound mail flow to quickly identify latency or delivery problems. Triggered alerts are sent to administrators via SMS or another email address and a one-click continuity portal drives down RTO. Mimecast includes the ability to communicate with employees via SMS to provide event specific instructions. These new features as well as the Mimecast for Outlook, mobile, Mac and web apps keep administrators and employees working during mail server outages.

By combining the necessary planning, employee communication and solutions, Mimecast makes email more resilient regardless of whether a customer is on-prem or using a cloud service like Office 365.

 

See how Mimecast can make email safer for your business. Schedule a demo today!

FILED IN

The Benefits of Cloud Migration

by David Hood - Director, Technology Marketing, Mimecast

 March 28, 2017

 

 The Great Migration

Microsoft Office 365 offers a compelling business case to organizations - trade resource intensive on-premises infrastructure and software for services managed by Microsoft and delivered from the cloud. The rate of adoption tells us the benefits are attractive. In fact, recent Mimecast research finds that 99% of Office 365 users are receiving some benefit from the service.*
   

The research also uncovered some very interesting information regarding how businesses with between 250 and 7,500 email users are making the move to the cloud with Office 365. First the survey found that 58% of companies were using Exchange Online with another 29% planning to in the next twelve months. For those thinking about how many employees to move up to the cloud, our research finds that the average is about 70% of the total email users. I believe this shows the importance of hybrid environments, an area that Office 365 has proved it’s supremacy over other cloud collaboration solutions.

Given that for most organizations, not everyone will be on Office 365, our research set out to find the other mail servers being used. Not surprising, many flavors of Exchange on-prem were in use with the following breakdown.

What other email service provider does your organization currently use?

Exchange 2016

32%

Exchange 2013

31%

Exchange 2010

15%

Google Apps

13%

IBM Lotus Domino

5%

Exchange 2007

4%

 

 How are orgs getting to the cloud?

With a large number of organizations already moving to the cloud and many others considering Office 365, it’s interesting to look at how companies are making the transition. Mimecast research finds that about one third of companies are using a cutover migration while two thirds are opting for a hybrid migration. Hybrid migrations are generally less risky as users can be switched over a longer time period with a safe fallback position to on-premises if something should go wrong. Organizations making the move are also keenly aware of the need to port archived email to the cloud. 9 in 10 organizations have already or plan to move existing mail to the cloud.

 

Migration Concerns

In addition to what migration approaches most companies are using, Mimecast wanted to find out what were the top concerns when making the move from on-premises email. I guess not surprisingly, 6 in 10 were most concerned about downtime during the migration. Especially considering that over 85% view email as critical to their organization. One surprising stat was that in the event of an Office 365 disruption, almost half of the organizations said they would just wait for Microsoft to restore the service while the other 50% would look to a third party for help with email continuity. It’s obvious which employees would be more productive!

Other top concerns for the migration include security concerns of senior employee’s email privacy, on-premises system requirements for sending email and the overall impact to employee productivity.

Interested in learning more about how Mimecast can help ease the transition to Office 365 and make email safer for business? Check out the ebook, Confidently Move Your Email To The Cloud.

*The research is based on a survey with 600 CIOs, IT directors or IT managers in the US, UK, South Africa and Australia. Research was conducted by Vanson Bourne between October and December 2016.


 

FILED IN

In a recent global survey of 600 IT decision makers, Mimecast found that 88% view email as critical to their organization with 55% saying email is mission-critical. This isn’t surprising; email is often the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing we check before going to bed. Any email disruption can bring productivity to a screeching halt—severely impacting customer service, preventing new sales, and impacting day-to-day operations.

Mimecast is pleased to release new Continuity Event Management features designed to ease the challenges of identifying, diagnosing and responding to mail flow problems on Microsoft Office 365™, Microsoft Exchange™ or G Suite by Google Cloud™. When every second counts, Mimecast reduces the time to respond to email disruptions so organizations can avoid the problems caused when this critical infrastructure isn’t working.

Mimecast Continuity Event Management features enable administrators to:

Monitor –Mimecast monitors for high latency and failed deliveries, both inbound and outbound, so admins stay on top of potential issues.

Alert – Organization specific thresholds for mail flow give administrators the ability to tailor when they are notified. Once a threshold is met, an automated alert is generated and sent via SMS or to an alternate email address. Administrators are alerted to problems on any device, anywhere.

Respond – A fast response continuity event portal provides the administrator with key metrics on the mail flow problem and gives details to quickly assess the severity of the problem. One-click activation starts continuity, with Mimecast sending and receiving email until the primary system can be recovered independently. An SMS message to employees reduces manual tasks and ensures the employee base follows company procedures.

Whether your organization operates on-premises, from the cloud or in a hybrid environment, problems still do occur. By analyzing customer data, Mimecast finds that 11% of detected outages were due to server or service issues that lasted 24 hours. Another example is the June 30, 2016 mail disruption of Microsoft Office 365™ which lasted for over nine hours on the last day of the month and last day of the quarter across most tenants in the United States.

No company can predict when a mail flow problem will arise and as the Office 365 incident points out, any disruption during a critical time can have widespread consequences. With the new features, available March 2017, Mimecast makes it easier to detect and manage mail flow disruptions.

Learn more about Mimecast’s leading Mailbox Continuity service and new event management features.

Related Content: Mimecast Enhances Cyber Resilience Capabilities To Improve Uptime For Organizations Facing Email Disruptions

FILED IN