Early Tuesday morning, Google's Gmail service was inaccessible for several hours, echoing similar outages that occurred last year in April, August, and October.
"If you've tried to access your Gmail account today, you are probably aware by now that we’re having some problems," said Acacio Cruz, Gmail site reliability manager, in a blog post." Shortly after 9:30 a.m. GMT our monitoring systems alerted us that Gmail consumer and business accounts worldwide could not get access to their e-mail. We're working very hard to solve the problem and we're really sorry for the inconvenience."
In an e-mail, a Google spokesperson said, "We're actively investigating the source of the issue and will share more information with our users as soon as we have it."
Gmail, with about 113 million users worldwide, is the third-most-popular Web-based e-mail service, according to ComScore, behind Microsoft's Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.
"We'll be extending the full SLA credit to all affected Google Apps Premier customers for the month of February, which represents a 15-day extension of their service," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail.
While the incident underscores the impact of service availability and the benefit of service level agreements, it also demonstrates the value of enabling offline Gmail access using Google Gears. Gmail users who had Google Gears installed were able to access their in-boxes during the outage, even if they were unable to send or receive messages.
The hyperconnectedness of Internet users tends to amplify such outages beyond their limited significance. The moment a service stops working, discontent ripples through Twitter, across message boards, and puts the service under a spotlight. Gmail sets itself up for an extra dose of ridicule because it still bears the "beta" designation after six years.
The fact is that failures happen. Last summer was particularly bad for so-called cloud-based services. In July, Amazon.com's S3 service was down for about eight hours. In August, Apple CEO Steve Jobs expressed regret about the poor performance of his company's MobileMe service. That doesn't mean Gmail and its kin shouldn't try harder. But a few hours without e-mail doesn't rise to the level of crisis.
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