As you may have heard, Google this week experienced an outage of its Gmail email service. The outage began just after 9:30am GMT on Tuesday February 24, 2009. Since GMT happens to be the local time zone in the UK, one observant UK hosting company – 34SP.com – both spotted the outage and alerted customers to the problems. Since there are somewhere around 113 million worldwide Gmail users, it is likely that some fraction of most web hosting company customers are using the service as their primary email. That means that during a prolonged outage (the outage on Tuesday was about 3 hours long) customers will not receive email replies to sales or service queries if they are on the errant email service.
So it was that 34SP.com decided to publish information about the Google Gmail outage on their corporate blog. The post was simply entitled ‘Gmail Outage‘ and alerted customers to the fact that there appeared to be a major problem with Gmail. From the blog post: ”34SP.com conducted extensive internal staff testing – both within and external to our firewall – and then sought outside confirmation that the service was indeed down. The URL: http://mail.google.com/mail/ remains unresponsive.”
The posting was among the first on the Internet to identify the problem and document the outage. According to Daniel Foster, co-founder of 34SP.com, ”A lot of our customers use Gmail addresses as their primary contact address, so this was an issue that affected a large portion of our customer base. We wanted to let them know that we were aware of the problems they were experiencing and inform anyone that didn’t know about it of what was going on. We’re always looking for ways to keep in touch with our customer base and the blog provides another superb way to do that. It’s a great option when the message isn’t something that needs to be communicated by e-mail or by getting directly in touch with individuals. Hopefully the nature of a lot of the posts can give people an insight into life at 34SP.com and satisfy the curiosity we know some people have.”
The latest Gmail outage was sixth disruption in the service within the past eight months. Google has promised to credit paying customers for 15 days of service. Gmail has two categories of users – those paying the $50 per year as a corporate user, and the free consumer service. Gmail has service-level agreements for paying customers with a guarantee of 99.9% uptime per month.
So what exactly caused the most admired Internet company to drop the ball on Gmail? According to the Official Google Blog on the subject, ”There was a routine maintenance event in one of our European data centers. This typically causes no disruption because accounts are simply served out of another data center. Unexpected side effects of some new code that tries to keep data geographically close to its owner caused another data center in Europe to become overloaded, and that caused cascading problems from one data center to another. It took us about an hour to get it all back under control.” The short version? Human error.