Brian Taylor

April 19, 2012

3 Min Read
Google Mail Suffers Outage Affecting 35 Million Users

Google Mail went offline for a while Tuesday, April 17. Did you notice?

At 12:42 p.m. Eastern, Google posted on its Google Mail status page it was “investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly.” The update at 1:18 pm Eastern noted,“This issue is affecting less than 2% of the Google Mail user base.” Just six minutes later, Google again updated the page, noting services had been restored for some users, and a resolution was expected “soon” for all users.

At 1:46 p.m. Eastern, Google posted that the issue “should be resolved” (an exact quote—check for yourself) and added reassuringly: “Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better.”

Well, thanks, Google. But as it turns out, the disruption, or outage (choose your term), was much, much bigger than Google said initially. It was not until 6:45 p.m. Pacific — that’s 9:45 p.m. Eastern, for the time zone difference-impaired — that Google officially owned up to the size of the e-mail services outage. Here’s what the company posted:

“[Update 6:45 PM Pacific] We’ve determined that this issue affected less than 10% of the Google Mail users who attempted to access their accounts during the affected timeframe.”

Google CEO Larry Page recently stated there are 350 million active users on Gmail. So, if it was an outage affecting not 2 percent, but as many as 10 percent of Google Mail users, then we’re talking about 35 million people — or roughly one-tenth of the population of the United States — cursing Google. That’s a lot of swear words.

Did Google handle this situation well? For starters, I would like to know why the company waited until 6:45 p.m. Pacific to post its final update. But until Google releases a Root Cause Analysis, as Microsoft was required to do for its Leap Year, Feb. 29, 2012, Windows Azure outage, we won’t know why there was a full nine hours between the last two updates, what snafus were in its infrastructure that led to the outage, and how Google plans to fix them.

The Google Mail status page states clearly at the top: “Unless otherwise noted, this status information applies to consumer services as well as services for organizations using Google Apps.” Although most of the reports centered on Gmail accounts, Google Apps (business) users reported issues, and it appears that Google Docs and Google+ also were not accessible to those experiencing the mail outage. Since Google has not noted otherwise on its status page, I find those reports credible.

Google’s last major outage was in September 2011, when an upgrade to Google Docs, said Engineering Director Alan Warren, caused an hour-long break in service. Seven months between major services disruptions may or may be acceptable given the current level of cloud infrastructure development, but you can be sure that Talkin’ Cloud is waiting for a full analysis from Google.

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