When a Hosted Exchange cloud service provider (CSP) suffers an outage, a lot of channel partners and customers can get left in the dark. It's painful. And there's nothing you can do until the cloud service is restored. Right? Absolutely wrong.

Rich Forsen, president of Network Depot and one of the minds behind Virtual Administrator, walked Talkin' Cloud through one potential solution that could keep channel partners -- and their customers -- productive even if a cloud email service like Hosted Exchange suffers an extended email outage.

How It Works

In Forsen's case, the solution involves SpamSoap -- but I suspect other email security service providers can also act as business continuity platforms during an email outage.

In an email explaining the approach to Talkin' Cloud, Forsen wrote:

"Basically, the way it works is that the MX records for customer domains point to SpamSoap for mail delivery. Within the SpamSoap interface you then plug in the actual mail server information. This ensures SpamSoap gets a chance to clean up all the mail before it's delivered, reducing traffic.

It also lets you (if you have an on premise server) lock down incoming SMTP from everything but SpamSoap at the mail server level, thus eliminating most security concerns from random attackers."

When Hosted Exchange Fails

Now let's say your hosted Exchange provider suffers an outage. Forsen writes: 

"When the SpamSoap engine can't reach the target mail servers, which it checks every 15 minutes, it will begin to "spool" messages.  This can also be triggered manually.  This means that people sending mail will not get bounce backs or non-delivery notices even if the target server is not available.  Instead, those messages that make it past the spam filtering will be placed in a spool queue.

Once the queue is activated, there is a function in SpamSoap called Message Continuity which exposes a web interface, which end users can access. It looks similar to things like Hotmail or Yahoo, and people can see the mail that has queued, respond to those messages, and while the outage continues, have full e-mail functionality.

Keep in mind this is only at the web level ­ Outlook; smart phones and things that point to the target server won't work until it's back up.  However, for extended outages, being able to still see current e-mail and send e-mails is great."

Once the cloud service provider comes back online, the SpamSoap spooling ends, the queues empty and everything goes back to normal, Forsen concludes.

Lessons Learned

Thousands of MSPs and VARs spend a lot of time complaining about cloud outages. I agree: Outages are painful. And they can hurt your customer relationships. But I wonder how many channel partners are building business continuity plans for their cloud services?

When Forsen's hosted email provider went dark this week he was prepared.

Yes, I'm referring to the Intermedia outage this week. I could have put Intermedia's name in the headline and at the top of this story. But that's not the point. Instead, consider this: VARs and MSPs should assume ALL cloud services are going to fail at some point. Find a workaround before it happens -- the way Forsen and his team did at Network Depot and Virtual Administrator.