Google's Gmail service suffered a major outage Monday afternoon, with many users locked out of their e-mail for several hours. The company confirmed the outage in an unusual apology on its Gmail blog. Titled "We feel your pain and we're sorry," the blog post said the problem was caused by a "temporary outage in our contacts system that was preventing Gmail from loading properly."
"We heard loud and clear today how much people care about their Gmail accounts," Gmail product manager Todd Jackson wrote. "We followed all the e-mails to our support team and user group, we fielded phone calls from Google Apps customers and friends, and we saw the many Twitter posts. (We also heard from plenty of Googlers, who use Gmail for company e-mail.) We never take for granted the commitment we've made to running an e-mail service that you can count on."
In addition to fixing the contacts system, Google is "conducting a full review of what went wrong and moving quickly to update our internal systems and procedures accordingly," Jackson wrote. He conceded that it's unusual for the company to discuss quality-of-service issues publicly, "but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted."
"Again, we're sorry," the post concluded.
The outage comes as Google hopes to ramp up its Google Apps offering to small and midsize businesses and calls into question whether the promise of cloud computing is being oversold. For instance, Google and SADA Systems, a technology consultancy, are planning a series of sales presentations titled "Google Apps and The Big Switch: Don't Worry About I.T."
Too Early for Cloud?
Google reacted swiftly to the outage, restoring service within a few hours, which should give potential customers a certain level of confidence in Google as a service provider, said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, in an e-mail. "Their quick response shows their commitment to keep Gmail up and running as smoothly as possible, which should give users some assurance that Google is highly committed to delivering a powerful e-mail system that can be used by business users and consumers alike."
Even so, the problem clearly is a hurdle for Google's attempts to move into the enterprise, Bajarin said. "This glitch has to be kept in the minds of enterprise users that are looking at Gmail use within large companies," he said. "Google needs to continue to provide the highest level of customer service and quality of service if they have any hopes of attracting large business customers."
The outage is an indictment not just of Google's services but of the general proposition that businesses can rely on the cloud, according to blogger Larry Dignan. In recent weeks, Apple's MobileMe service proved to be a disaster and Amazon's S3 storage gird suffered substantial problems. "These growing pains, which are more evident each day that we rely more on service-based software efforts, indicate that you can't really trust the cloud at this juncture. It's too early and providers are learning as they go," Dignan wrote.
While the idea of outsourcing IT to Google is appealing, the reality is that companies -- even very small companies -- need redundant systems. "Given that our company relies on Google's Gmail and GTalk service, our operations came to a standstill this afternoon," blogger Om Malik wrote on his site. "We aren't a large company, but the losses are very real, especially in productivity."