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1and1 Hosted Microsoft Exchange Informative - Microsoft Exchange Hosting Disaster

Review by NotThisRecord on 2007-12-26
1and1 offers one of the lowest-cost hosting plans for Microsoft Exchange, only US$6.99 per month for a 1GB account. It is possible to access the account using a browser with Outlook Web Access (OWA), with Outlook, and with PDA clients like the Treo.

The support from 1and1 seems to have improved in terms of response time from 2005/2006.

But that is the end of any good news.

Microsoft cripples OWA so that it only works in full mode with Internet Explorer, which is still banned in my environment. Using Firefox or similar browsers results in lots of functionality disappearing, in particular the search functions. If you need to use a non-Microsoft browser, then software like Open Exchange might be a better option. But these limitations are not necessarily 1and1's fault.

If you want to use another client, you are limited to Outlook 2007, and to connect properly, you *must* be on at least Windows XP (maybe even Vista now). It should be possible to use other clients, such as Evolution, but 1and1 disables certain functionality (as per Microsoft directions for 'security' reasons) so that Evolution cannot connect. Companies running Exchange can easily enable the missing functionality without creating any security issue, but 1and1 chooses not to do this.

PDA access will work on a Treo 650, and you get full e-mail access and calendar access and synchronization, but not contacts. It is also not possible to get 'push' e-mail using any out-of-the-box 1and1 setup.

So for flexible access, you are really limited to Outlook Web Access (OWA).

Unfortunately, depending on 1and1 OWA is a really bad idea.

1and1 has suffered unpredictable service interruptions for at least two years. Their technical support line answers the phone much more quickly than they used to, but their knowledge is limited and they almost never have the ability to fix whatever is wrong, or give any idea of how long it will be down. Usually after an hour or two, the service would reappear.

Around September 2007, 1and1 apparently began upgrading its Exchange servers to a newer version. That is when things really started to go wrong. The service would become unavailable for hours at a time - sometimes refusing logins, sometimes logging in and not functioning, sometimes just not there at all. There also appeared to be occasional issues with some incoming and outgoing e-mail being discarded without any trace (though I was never able to get a smoking gun).

When these issues arise, there is a workaround to get emergency access to your e-mail: You can use the XAdmin function to request that a backup file be prepared. This .PST file can be downloaded to your PC, and you can open it with just about any old version of Outlook.

Unfortunately, when the problems started, the backup functionality also became hit-and-miss. Instead of producing a backup of the whole user account, which could be hundreds of megabytes, the system often produces a backup file of less than 2KB.

Calling technical support because the main system is down, or because the backup system is not working, is pretty much a waste of time. In numerous calls to them, they answer the phone quickly, but they have never been able to actually fix anything.

Sometimes, depending on the issue, they are able to offer helpful suggestions. For example, when OWA stopped working last week, displaying only a couple of empty frames with '404 File Not Found' errors after login, they suggested using inconfig /flushdns to fix the problem. This did indeed allow the system to work for a couple of hours, before their technicians changed something even more fundamental and the workaround no longer worked.

In the most common scenario - where technical support has received lots of calls because something is not working, but they can't actually fix anything or offer any workaround - calling them is just a frustrating waste of time. The worst thing is that they have no idea when, or even if, a problem is ever going to be fixed.

When pressed, 1and1 technical support will explain to you that if you are really unhappy, you can contact their complaints department. But this is only possible by e-mail. When you explain that the reason you are calling is because your e-mail is not working, and therefore giving a complaints address is useless, they can only suggest you wait until your e-mail is working again, then send your complaint.

But what has really taken the cake is their most recent server security reconfiguration.

As I write this review, it has been six days since I have been able to access my Exchange e-mail. It is impossible to get in with Microsoft OWA (a successful login just results in 'Page not found' errors), and it is impossible to get any valid backup (only 2KB files are produced that don't contain the real backup data).

I have called at least once each day, and they have not been able to help at all. They do seem to have confirmed that they cannot access my account from their computers either, but that's it. No idea of when it might be fixed. They even say in awed tones that the failure 'has been escalated to administration', and that I will hear via e-mail what is happening (at a non-1and1 e-mail address of course...). In fact, there has been absolutely no word from 1and1 for six days, no update, no apology, no estimated time of fixing.

I have also e-mailed the customer complaint address twice, asking for a credit for the service interruption, a fax number for their president and CEO that I can use to complain, and an estimated time that the service will be properly fixed. I have not received any response at all to either e-mail.

Fortunately, this period has included a weekend and a couple of holidays, but as of tomorrow morning this interruption will be destroying business again. Based on recent experience, I do not expect anything to change. I am now in the process of moving my e-mail account away from the 1and1 hosted Exchange service, though that is difficult and time-consuming. It also looks like I am likely to lose e-mail, at least for some time, because there is mail queuing up in the 1and1 account at the moment that I cannot get to.

I find it astounding that a company as large as 1and1 can botch a software upgrade as seriously as 1and1 has. There is obviously no organized regression testing when they make system changes, and based on so many of the errors being permission-based from IIS as they cut off access to needed pages, their security people must be complete amateurs (no disrespect to amateurs intended).

Any normal IT executive would have been fired weeks ago if there were half the problems that 1and1 has had. And given 1and1's visibility in the market, I'm surprised that Microsoft seems to have stood by and watched 1and1 destroy any decent reputation Exchange might have had. Tthough maybe 1and1's deal in Germany to offer hosted Open Exchange means Microsoft is now out to screw 1and1.

I have many other services hosted with 1and1, and I have had problems with them from time to time. However, dollar-for-dollar their other services do seem to meet a market need, and none of their other services has been a disaster on the scale of Microsoft Exchange.

In summary: Forget about 1and1 for hosted Exchange.

They are incapable of delivering the service. The fact that it is cheap means nothing when it simply does not work at all.
Comments:2 Replies - Latest reply on 2007-12-27
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-12-27:
If your only running a couple of domains you might want to try GoDaddy for email hosting. They have none of the issues you describe.
Posted by NotThisRecord on 2007-12-27:
Thanks - I'm looking into GoDaddy. Unfortunately I have been using several of the advanced features of Microsoft Exchange, not just the basic e-mail, so that limits my options. Given the general pricing for hosted Exchange e-mail, I will be looking at someone offering Open Exchange (which has a much nicer web client than Microsoft OWA (outlook web access)), or biting the bullet and running OpenExchange myself.

I do have domains at 1and1 that use their regular hosting (not Microsoft Exchange), and there are clients that use regular 1and1 e-mail on those accounts. While the performance is not great, and the features are pretty limited, the reliability of those systems has not been the disaster that their hosted Microsoft Exchange has been... it's too bad to have to switch to something of much lower functionality, but it is more important that it actually works!

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