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March 29, 2020

Scaling Up Microsoft Teams for WFH

Today is Day 2 of the “virtual” MVP Summit 2020. The whole thing is handled using Teams. And I must say my overall impression is that Teams is up to the job. In fact, it’s been fascinating to watch how easily and well the MVPs (and MS staff) have taken to this new and different way of conferencing together. But there have been some issues that I’ve noticed personally, with news of other things also popping up around Teams as well.

Teams in the News

Just before the MVP Summit kicked off on Monday morning, March 16, lots of different news outlets reported a two-hour outage that affected European users (mostly). This story from The Verge is pretty representative: Microsoft Teams goes down just as Europe logs on to work remotely. Users experienced issues logging into the service, and in sending messages, but MS was able to resolve those issues within two hours after initial reports showed up. Later that day — as the MVP Summit was already underway, me attending — intermittent issues popped up again. And again, MS was able to resolve those issues. According to an unidentified MS spokesperson quoted in The Verge story already cited “We’ve taken steps to address an issue that a subset of our customers may have experienced. Our engineering teams continue to actively monitor performance and usage trends.”

MS Teams logo with label text

This more official logo also includes the product name, and lacks the fancified background from the MS 365 Developer Blog image.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Teams at the MVP Summit 2020

Let me tell you about what I witnessed inside a half-dozen Teams sessions over the past two days. By and large, Teams worked just like it was supposed to. I did encounter two or three intermittent, short-lived issues with voice quality (the presenter’s, not mine: attendees’ mikes are muted to eliminate unnecessary background noise). That said, the material remained intelligible and understandable so it was more of an annoyance than a real problem. There was only one session where we lost our speaker for a half-minute or so, but it seemed more like a presenter hand-off or coordination problem — operator error rather than a truly “lost” signal — because it occurred just as one speaker was taking over for another.

I can also observe with some confidence, that Teams has latency issues when interactive items (surveys, fill-in-the-form bits, and so forth) are posted to its meeting chat facilities. Yesterday, I saw the chat window freeze for 30-60 seconds each time a survey was posted, with additional freezes occurring each time an attendee responded to the survey. Because the survey didn’t provide feedback that a summission had been received when I punched the “Submit” button, I couldn’t tell if my responses were received, either. Nor did the “Display results” button work for me: each time I clicked it, I got the infamous “Something went wrong” error message. I walked away from those experiences firmly believing that MS Teams engineers should pop open a sub-window to handle interactive input (and results output), and also, spawn a process to handle all interactive processing in a way that shouldn’t affect the main display or chat windows.

My own Teams experience also included some chat window confusion. Other attendees and moderators kept talking about content in “the chat window” that I couldn’t see in my meeting chat pane. I’m guessing that either my instance wasn’t refreshing properly (I could see my input, but not other items being discussed) or that information was going into the main Chat window for Teams rather than the chat window/pane for the meeting that was the current primary focus for Teams on my PC. I dunno (don’t know).

I’m thinking that, given the scale of uptake and use of Teams in the wake of a major, global “Work From Home” (WFH) phenomenon happening right now, these are all minor and entirely understandable teething pains. The events of the past few days and weeks are providing the kinds of stress tests on such software that might otherwise be impossible (or even, inconceivable). So far, Teams is mostly up to the challenge. Also, I can’t help but think it will improve its availability, resiliency and stability thanks to the incredible workout it’s getting right now. Could this be a hidden virtue of cloud-based software, that engineers can tweak the code while it’s being used? Perhaps so. Great stuff!


Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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