Microsoft must restore cloud reputation after Skype outage

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Microsoft faces a struggle to restore the reputation of its Skype brand after a 15-hour outage left the free version of the service unusable for millions of customers worldwide yesterday.

Microsoft initially said that the outage only affected voice calls, but many users found they were unable to use chat either. The service was finally restored worldwide shortly before midnight, UK time.

Despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary, many business customers were affected. We explain why.

Yesterday’s problems were widely touted as only affecting non-business customers – in other words, the outage did not affect Skype for Business (formerly Microsoft Lync). However, this ignores the reality of many businesses using the free versions of Skype informally, particularly those companies for whom mobility and flexible working mean that they mix and match their own unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) choices ‘on the fly’ on a needs-must basis, rather than run large-scale business accounts or fully integrated systems.

Microsoft has also made great play of the importance of the Skype marque to Windows 10, the revamped OS which was launched in the summer with a new focus on enabling UC&C in the cloud. As such, any sustained, high-profile, global service collapse strikes at the heart of the Microsoft message.

A new style of challenge…

On the surface – no hardware pun intended – Microsoft may feel that it can brush off the outage because it did not affect its new core user base: business customers, rather than home consumers. But that betrays muddy thinking, because there is no longer such a clear-cut distinction between business and consumer customers as there was in Microsoft’s 1990s heyday.

For any companies that have no technology lock-in or licence-based ties to enterprise communications services, their use of public cloud-based tools is driven solely by business need rather than vendor loyalty. This is doubly true in the age of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes, both formal and informal.

A rash of blog posts yesterday showed that many companies were using the outage as a spur to find alternative tools and services, with some citing their frustration at this being yet more (apparent) evidence of Skype’s inability to sustain large call volumes. Skype was dogged with problems before Microsoft acquired it for $8.5 billion four years ago, and has suffered a number of outages since.

In light of frustrated users’ ability to switch to alternative services in a matter of minutes, or even seconds, yesterday’s problems represent a major setback for the world’s largest software vendor as it refocuses itself as a cloud services provider.

Microsoft needs to learn a tough lesson fast. Just because a business does not have a Skype for Business account does not mean that it does not rely on Skype for business. Pushing informal users to reach into their pockets and upgrade will now be a much tougher challenge, not an easier one.

Hopefully, Microsoft will recognise that it can no longer rely on its name alone to retain business customers – and also recognise that the patchy, glitchy, and unreliable service across many of its other free tools, such as Outlook in the public cloud, are also damaging its brand among informal customers.

In short, refocusing on business doesn’t mean that free tools no longer matter. The truth is the exact reverse.

About Author

Chris Middleton

Chris Middleton is a widely respected business and technology journalist, author, and magazine editor. In recent years he has been Editor of Computing (where he remains Consulting Editor); co-founder and Managing Editor of Professional Outsourcing – a magazine he developed from scratch and grew to be the leading magazine in its field; Editor of CBR in its most successful year; and co-founder and launch Editor of Sourcingfocus.com. Today, he is co-Director of EastwoodMiddleton Publishing, and founder, designer, and Editor in Chief of Strategist magazine (UK), the boardroom magazine that provides strategic insight for business leaders, and of its mobile-first digital edition at www.iamtheStrategist.com. He is also co-founding Editor of Child Internet Safety magazine, and a contributing Editor of Diginomica.com. Over the years Chris has also written for, among many others, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and Computer Weekly. He is the author of several successful books on digital media, and a commissioning editor of more than 50 books.