We back up our files, our servers, and our phones’ data. But do you have a backup for your communications tools?

The idea came up yesterday while checking tech news. Microsoft cloud services had an outage on the 21st. An authentication issue stopped users from logging into OneDrive, Outlook.com, Skype, etc.

It’s the second such outage in two weeks; we had a similar one on March 7.

Any outage is frustrating, whether it’s for 5 minutes or 5 days. If the outage lasts long enough, you’re faced with a decision: wait it out, or switch to a backup?

Wait, I thought. We have backups in place for data and servers. But if Skype for Business went down, we’d lose half our communications ability. Email may not even work. A backup communications method, waiting in the wings, would be a pretty prudent safeguard!

The Risk Factor in All Cloud Services: Outages Crash Productivity

These latest O365 outages remind us all of one thing: The Cloud can go down too. Slack had an outage on March 7 too, the same time as the earlier O365 outage.Broken Communications Tools

Now, while some Twitter users joked about such outages actually HELPING productivity, the fact is that when you lose a tool you use for work, your real-time productivity is disrupted. You have to stop what you’re doing, coordinate with colleagues in some other method, send emails, make phone calls…

All of which is not the work you were doing.

Now, cloud service outages are not common. Many, Microsoft included, do have redundancies to minimize your loss of service. But even with 99.9999% uptime promised, the fact remains…the cloud is just a cluster of servers. It can crash. And take your productivity with it.

It’s a reality…which means we, as good IT pros, can plan for it!

How many of us have a spare server sitting in the datacenter, a row of darkness between all those blinking lights, ready to go if there’s a crash? Most of us, I’d bet.

How then do we “have a spare ready” for communications tools, like Skype for Business?

I’m not talking about phones though. If email goes down, it’s tempting to just grab your phone and start texting co-workers. But, hold on. There’s a major reason why your phone isn’t a good choice for communications backup.

A Backup Communications Method Should Be Equally As, or More Secure Than Your Standard Tools

Why isn’t a phone a good backup communications tool? Because you may inadvertently leak corporate intellectual property, or other sensitive data, when using it.

Remember mobile security. Platforms like Skype for Business contain their conversations within a bubble of encryption and authentication. Does your phone give you that? What about hackers & malware?

Instead, consider a backup communications method that operates securely at the outset. A protected space where you can have conversations, share files…accomplish the same things you do with your day-to-day communications tools.

For example, if you use Skype for Business Server, you could provision some Office 365 accounts to use Skype for Business Online or Teams. Same kind of environment, and you can flip over fairly fast. Outages aside, this is probably the first recommendation I’d make for businesses currently using Skype for Business Server.

But what if you use Office 365, and it goes down? Keeping a Skype for Business Server configured, but inactive in your datacenter, is too costly for a backup.

The most obvious solution is one of the other chat apps.

Which one? That depends on your current environment. To make the determination, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which of the available communications platforms will let us use our favorite communication tool, the fastest? (If group chat is popular, look to Teams or Slack.)
  • Is this secure enough for what we typically share? (Consult my post on chat app security for help there.)
  • Are my users more comfortable with desktop apps, or a web-based system? (Slack has a desktop & mobile apps. Workplace only has mobile apps.)
Broken Communications
Is Office 365 down AGAIN?!

One more factor: Consider where the chat app is hosted.

“Well, it’s in the cloud, isn’t it?” Yes, but does the maker host the services themselves, or employ other cloud servers? Workplace, for instance, is hosted on the same servers as Facebook. So if Facebook goes down, there’s a good chance Workplace does too. (Oh, the outcry that would happen…)

However, HipChat is hosted on Amazon Web Services. If Amazon has an outage, then HipChat may have one too. That second-level vulnerability should factor into your decision.

Do You Have a Backup Communications Method? You’ll Want One When You Need It!

This is very much an “Emergency Planning” type of activity. Cloud outages are, like I said, uncommon. Office 365’s only had 10 outages in the past 3 years, most for less than 1 day. For millions of daily users? That’s not too bad.

We’re IT pros though. We plan for the worst, and remain pleasantly surprised when things go well. Even (especially?) when it comes to communications.

If you use Microsoft cloud services, bookmark these three links:

They’ll tell you if a service like Office 365 is down.

If you had an outage, what backup communication method would you use? Please comment or email. And don’t forget to join the mailing list!

The Importance of a Backup Communications Method
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