Office Live Small Business: A horror story

With the Office Live Small Business shutdown just six days away I finally have my Web site up and running elsewhere. But the transition has been a nightmare. The site I administer was down for about a month, and I wonder just how many small business users out there are going to be able to make the transition in time.

Those who don't stand to lose not just all of their Web site content but any custom domain name they registered as well. From what I've heard from others with Web sites hosted with OLSB, there's a lot of confusion out there.

Here's what you need to know

  • OLSB goes off line next Monday.
  • You will lose your Web site, all of your documents and any custom domain name Microsoft registered on your behalf if you don't act immediately. If you lose your domain name, you risk having an Internet vulture scoop it up and then try to sell it back to you at an exhorbitant price.
  • Previously Microsoft maintained your custom domain name for you. To keep it you must follow steps in its transition guide to change domain management to Microsoft's registrar. That entity is Melbourne IT in Australia. Plan on very long wait times if you need support from them.
  • You are responsible for all of the configuration steps for migrating your email, Web site and other content either to another hosting provider or to Office Live Small Business.
  • From a transition standpoint for your Web site there appears to be little advantage to going with Office 365. Microsoft's transition plan for your Web site is that there is no transition plan. You will have to create your new site, then copy and paste what content you can. If you haven't done this already I'd suggest you copy/paste all of your pages into an HTML editor or Word document on your computer before they go away forever.
  • Microsoft has an FAQ and a transition center with more information.
  • Microsoft offers no telephone support. If you need help you'll have to hire one of its partners such as CloudVisors or ask the community for help.

My horror story: Why it pays not to procrastinate

On February first I received an email stating that Microsoft would discontinue OLSB effective May 1, 2012. It did not, however, spell out exactly what that meant for users. Fortunately, I downloaded the transition guide and realized that I was about to lose everything, including my registered domain name, if I didn't act fast.

My first step was to reassign control of the domain name that Microsoft OLSB registered on my behalf back to me. I followed the process, and on February 23rd I received notice that my domain registrar was now Melbourne IT.

Over the next few weeks I tested Office 365, but like many users who only used OLSB for Web hosting, decided that Office 365 was overkill. After investigating several options (including GoDaddy and Webs) I rebuilt the Web site using Google Sites.

I then began climbing the learning curve to figure out what needed to be done in order to point my domain name to the new hosted Web site. This is where I suspect many business users will get lost.

I had instructions from Google on what to do on their end, but I struggled to reach Melbourne IT and the technical details of what needed to be done on their end was a bit esoteric. Calls involved very long wait times, and for some reason call quality was poor. After a 40 minute wait, they would pick up, the call would start to degrade and I'd lose them before I could even get started -- frustrating. I sent several email requests to support -- the last desperately begging for help. All went unacknowledged for several weeks.

When I finally got through on a clear line (I called in the middle of the night), the tech said they were swamped with frantic calls from OLSB users. "They don't realize that Melbourne is handling only the domain registration and Microsoft still handles the hosting," she said. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't offer a telephone support line, so everyone is calling Melbourne IT, she added.

From bad to worse

My first step was to change the name server, which broke the connection to the Office Live site. The next day, after the new DNS settings went live, I tried to map the domain name to the appropriate Google site -- and received an error. My Web site was now off line.

I made several more calls to Melbourne and was alternately told that this was a known issue and that there was no issue. The call was repeatedly escalated but no one called back.

At this point I began searching for a new domain registrar. I called GoDaddy. "We can't help you," said a support tech as he examined the Whois record for the domain name. The record status said "client transfer prohibited."

"You must have recently transferred the domain from Microsoft to Melbourne, he explained. "The rule is that you must wait 60 days before you can transfer a domain name again."

"Unfortunately, you can't transfer it before microsoft shuts off your Web site. I'm sorry," he said, and then added:

"We're getting a lot of Microsoft OLSB calls."

By this time it was the end of March.

Then, on April 4th, I received an email from Sankalp in Melbourne IT support requesting the "Cname" record information for my Google Site so he could map the site for me. I replied that day.

On April 10th this:

"Dear Robert,

I have created the cname record and pointed [domain name] to ghs.google.com. Please allow upto 24 hours for propagation."

I was saved!

I was not.

Two days later the domain still was not working. A follow up reply to Sankalp went unanswered. Despair set in.

A graceful exit

I made one last midnght call to Melbourne technical support - and got through after only about a 10-minute wait. Is it true, I asked, that I cannot transfer the domain to a new registrar for 60 days? No, they said. The domain hadn't been transferred; only the owner name had been changed on the account. I could, indeed, transfer it.

By now it was April 12th. I immediately called Dotster (great support techs), signed up and began the transition process with Melbourne. Five days later Melbourne finally reliquished control of the domain name. I logged into my Dotser account, configured the new DNS settings, and mapped the domain name to my Google site. On the morning of April 18th, nearly three months after I began the transition process, the Web site finally came back online.

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