The good the bad and me with Office 365 support and no ‘god’ rights

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing. At the moment I clicked to open and write this entry an update from Tony Redmond’s blog came in. http://wp.me/pSH8B-WN

I think it safe to say that now is a time more than many that I would like to be a fly on the wall inside Microsoft. As someone who understands the intricacies of maintaining complex AD/Exchange systems, often combined with meta-directories servicing multiple discrete clients, I can imagine the work to maintain and bring into service the immense numbers of Office 365 customers must be a sight to behold! Then to do a live upgrade to Exchange 2013 – wow!

Although I’m sure any customer will expect a high level of service from Microsoft, I wonder if the business, back-end techs and infrastructure were prepared for how much of a success 365 has been. It must be quite baffling for the marketing and sales execs to understand how, when pushing some products such as Windows 8, no amount of marketing will work, yet with others people are falling over themselves to buy.

So, my recent brush with Office 365 support. As is well known, I am not keen to be a user of 365 yet the domain my family shares, for one reason or another, is now hosted there. I was therefore faced with the dilemma of paying about £3 per month to retain the mailbox at 365 or to determine if the hosted domain could be set to be non-authoritative.

So to see how to set what is a pretty basic Exchange setting for domains, I used the now expected blogs and online help. Not one article when googling, searching the 365 portal or anywhere else, would flash up the term non-authoritative. The only article I could pull up pointed to setting 365 as authoritative and using MX to point to a host before 365 to handle non-365 mailboxes. The opposite of what I required.

As the trial period reached expiry I decided to take the dreaded route of calling support. Dreaded, as I anticipated what Tony reports in his blog regarding dealing with first line support as a high level tech. Explaining that I do know more than a basic user and just want a simple answer to a very precisely crafted technical question and so would appreciate fast tracking to some degree to save everyone’s time, has become a little tedious.

Undeterred, I called the free 0800 support number for 365 and got through the first hurdles quite quickly and smoothly. A bright and cheerful American voice grated on me ever so slightly until I adjusted my British filters to accept overt ‘niceness’, took down a detailed set of information regarding my account and support request and informed me this needed to be dealt with by a technical resource. I was warned of incredibly long wait times and being a veteran thought I had apportioned time for this eventuality.

I was then transferred to what appeared to be a tech triage area as the next person was also not able to answer the question on searching for the requested information, so I was asked to hold for a technical support person. I must admit that the two hours I set aside for this wait was not enough. I gave in, I hung up. It was Friday afternoon, I thought it could wait until Monday.

It was refreshing therefore to receive an email and telephone call this morning (Monday) before I could call back. I was greeted by an Indian based Microsoft tech who was articulate and well able to answer my question instantly. He was also kind enough to allow me to check on a test account how the setting could be achieved, which uncovered something I’ll mention at the end.

All told, with a simple yet slightly non-standard question, my experience with 365 support was very heartening. If allowing a degree of tolerance for the massive numbers of calls hitting Microsoft at present and the sensitive timing of the first ever live upgrade of the service, they appear to have a set of systems in place that are at least catching and tracking cases (Tony’s lost case notwithstanding!) and getting back to people in a reasonable time frame. If they can maintain this model with high volumes of customers then one would hope the support service will settle down well over the next few months. I’ll let you know if I hear any horror stories when my mother’s mailbox moves to 2013..

The two points raised from all this that seem to stand out for me;

One, when searching for the answer to my question, why couldn’t I find any article related to setting our domain to be non-authoritative at 365 when I could easily find one that set an MX to an external smart host that is non-authoritative and then routes to 365? I wonder if the answer to this lies in the fact it is termed a ‘Shared’ or ‘Hosted’ domain on 365 and there is not one reference to the industry-wide term ‘non-authoritative’. (although one reference to authoritative on the hosted which sadly didn’t show on any searches) So, improving documentation and search capabilities would appear to be a priority to reduce logging telephone support requests such as mine.. If the second Microsoft person I spoke to was unable to search a knowledge base and find the answer, then this underlines the fact.

Secondly and perhaps more pertinently, I could have found the answer myself nearly instantly several weeks ago if I had the correct permissions granted! It transpires that the ‘admin’ rights granted to me by my brother on our 365 domain were not quite the rights I needed to be able to see and manage our email domain functionality. So the admin pages that I would have invariably tinkered to until I had found my answer were not visible to me at all. Too used I am to the full rights granted being.

So, horses for courses as I’ve always said about 365. Great for very small operations. Still very edgy about using as a core business service for SMEs and larger.

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