Gmail Outages: The Debate Continues

By  |  Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Gmail Sick[UPDATE: Google responded to this post with some details about Gmail outages and how it responds to them.]

For about two and a half hours this morning, some Gmail users found that their contacts or the entire service was unavailable. Once the service bounced back, folks continued to debate whether Google outages are a sign of serious trouble or not.

The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Worthen quotes a Gartner study that says corporate e-mail is only available 95.5 % of the time on average, and says Gmail is more robust than many:

About 150 million people have Gmail accounts, making its failures highly public. Even if the service is available 99.9% of the time – the service level that Google guarantees for its corporate customers – it will be unavailable for about nine hours a year. That looks to be around the amount of time that just nearly everyone on the planet notices these failures.

GigaOm’s Om Malik, however, is a nonplussed Google customer:

What really bothers me is the crap Google posts on its Google Apps status page. “We are aware of a problem with Google Mail affecting a small subset of users,” it posted this morning. Seriously, guys? If you look at the number of people complaining on Twitter and Facebook, it sure doesn’t look like only a small subset of users is affected by this.

Google didn’t define what it meant by small–but when a service has as many customers as Gmail does, even a small percentage adds up to a lot of unhappy campers who can’t get their stuff done.

At 9:58am, Google’s Apps Status reported that the glitch had been resolved, and apologized for the disruption. But it didn’t explain what had happened. And unlike the last significant Gmail outage, this one went unacknowledged by the Gmail blog.

Me, I’m still willing to believe that Gmail’s track record for reliability is still respectable. But I’d like to see the company consistently address major outages on the blog, telling us all what happened–even if the circumstances are dreary and technical. The company’s blogs are pretty good as is, but wouldn’t they be even better if they reliably tackled difficult Google news as well as cheery rollouts of new services? And wouldn’t concerned Google customers feel better if the company gave them as much evidence as possible that it takes outages really seriously?


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Randall Says:

    For what it’s worth, we also broke down the topic over on TechVi.

    I’m of the belief that the 95.5% number is glaringly obvious to anyone who’s worked in enterprise, though 9 hours of yearly allotted gmail downtime does seem like quite a bit… though I don’t think Google has approached that to my knowledge.

  2. Peggy Says:

    It is too glib to call this a “minor glitch” that affected “a small subset of users”.

    As one of that subset, I had critical (all right, all right, online game related) messages that I could NOT get out because GMail wouldn’t send and GTalk wouldn’t talk. It was a minor emergency, and almost cost me a victory.

    And this is just my GAMING life. They want me to keep mission critical, work-related docs on their servers?

    After this, no way.

  3. David Worthington Says:

    When I was in college we had an early version of the BlackBoard course ware system set up as a portal. It would be completely inaccessible and unusable, but the IT staff would claim that they had up time. I expect better from Google.

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