My recent post about potential technical problems with webinars struck a nerve with Irwin Hipsman at Brainshark. He wrote to tell me about a service interruption for Microsoft Office Live Meeting that happened on Wednesday, October 13. The hosted web conferencing service was unavailable for two hours, from 11am-1pm US Eastern. That just happened to coincide with a public webinar that Brainshark was running.
Brainshark licenses their use of Live Meeting through a reseller rather than directly from Microsoft. When they contacted their provider, they received the following response:
“From looking over the previous ticket, it appears that Live Meeting was experiencing intermittent issues on that day, that’s the only information that was relayed to us. I do apologize for the inconvenience.”
Irwin wonders about a number of issues this raises.
- Was his access to timely information and details hampered by the fact that he wasn’t dealing directly with Microsoft? Would he have received faster, better information if he was directly licensed through the vendor? I wrote about trade-offs in working with vendors vs. resellers, but this may be an unanswerable question. I was unable to find any status information or any mention of downtime on the Microsoft website or forums when I did some Google searching. However I did track down a blog post from September 27 introducing a new Microsoft Online Service Health Dashboard. It gives the status of services and tools, along with a rolling 35-day status history. You need a BPOS* administrator account and password to access the site, so I was unable to check the reported downtime. Microsoft Technical Support would not talk to me, confirm or deny an outage, or give me the name of a contact when I tried to reach somebody there. Irwin said that nobody at his company could seem to login either with any of their IDs.
- Shouldn’t hosted software providers have policies in place for communicating about current and recent availability problems? Microsoft could set up automated communications to their registered resellers to alert them when problems occur and to give them assistance in responding to customer inquiries. But they don’t. Neither do other web conferencing hosts to my knowledge.
- Why hasn’t there been more outcry about this? My searches on Microsoft forums, Technorati, and general news found no mention of the downtime window on October 13. Was it widespread, confined to a small subset of accounts, or specific to Brainshark’s meeting? Shouldn’t more companies be screaming if the service went down during prime business hours in the middle of the work week? Are people just accepting that sometimes things break and that it’s not worth complaining about? Do they just continue with an audioconference call and not really care about visuals and interactivity features?
- Are there resources that can help companies compare service reliability from hosted web conference vendors? I don’t know of any site that collects information about service outages in the web conferencing industry. In most cases, the vendors will not post information about drops in availability and there is no way to know if a single customer’s anecdotal incident indicates a limited or widespread drop in service. I found some news stories indicating that a Microsoft blogger had disclosed the fact that BPOS* had dropped several times in August and September of this year. This pushed Microsoft below their uptime Service Level Agreement and some customers were being compensated.
I attempted to reach someone at Microsoft for comment, but have not yet had a response.
By the way, Brainshark dealt with their canceled webinar by creating a recorded Brainshark version of the content. The 60-minute live webinar turned into a more condensed 30-minute dissertation on the material. If you were signed up for the webinar and want to see what you missed, you can click here to access the recording.
* BPOS stands for Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (which includes Live Meeting)