Gmail service outage points to a hole in the cloud

A service outage that impacted users of Google services including Gmail for approximately 75 minutes early this morning, is calling attention to a potential kink in the cloud: While an estimated 113 million Gmail accounts were forced to resort to Google's new offline mode, introduced last month, a number of Google service users were also forced to wait, since Gmail also serves as the company's central source of service authentication.

The outage came at the worst possible time for users in Western Europe, including Great Britain, where users were just getting settled to work. Google Apps can work offline, though the degree of offline functionality they offer has only been increasing in small steps. Calendar functionality through Google Gears, for instance, was only introduced earlier this month, although the company announced its trend toward the "offline cloud" in April 2007.

Bloggers this morning made the case -- quite literally -- that dependence upon the cloud for services and software enables users to be less dependent on...well, the cloud for reliability and availability. One independent blogger who covers Google Apps wrote, "When events like this happen, it brings up the scariest point when depending on the cloud, if it goes down, all of our services will also go. For me, the advantages of cloud computing heavily outweigh this disadvantage."

And Dutch software developer Arnaud Martens credits Google's system of redundancy for being able to minimize outages such as the one experienced this morning: "Google has invented its proprietary architecture to run its search and many of its other services. They make heavy use of three concepts," listing easily replaceable units, redundancy, and compartmentalization. "Incidentally the normal post system uses the same principles to handle the enormous amount of letters each day. The pioneering work from Google is now becoming a available from commercial vendors and service providers as well."

Meanwhile, Twitter users have been tossing around the term "Gfail" to such a degree that it's becoming a fresh new keyword among search engines.

Update banner (stretched)

6:16 pm EST February 24, 2009 - Google announced Tuesday afternoon that paying customers for its Google Apps who suffered from this morning's outage -- which is now believed to have stretched over two hours for some customers -- are being offered a 15-day usage credit. The company has yet to announce how that offer is being made, although there was no obvious way for individuals to apply for that credit as of Tuesday evening.

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