Prolonged Gmail failure provokes adminstrators' anger

Prolonged Gmail failure provokes adminstrators' anger

Outage weakens case for Google Apps and SaaS

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A prolonged, ongoing Gmail outage this weeks has left some Google Apps administrators frustrated as their end users, including high-ranking executives, complain loudly while they wait for service to be restored.

At around 5 pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday, Google announced in the official Google Apps discussion forum that the company was aware of a problem preventing Gmail users from logging into their accounts. Google said it expected a fix by 9 pm on Thursday – 28 hours later.

Google offered no explanation as to what is causing the problem nor as to why it will take the company so long to solve the problem, which manifests itself by giving Gmail users a "502" error when trying to access their e-mail accounts.

Although Google said the bug is affecting "a small number of users," that is little comfort for Google Apps administrators who have been fielding angry complaints from end users.

An administrator identified as Bill W. posted a desperate message on the forum Thursday morning, saying his company's CEO is steaming about being locked out of his e-mail account since around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

"Support keeps telling me it is affecting a small number of users. This is not a temporary problem if it
lasts this long. It is frustrating to not be able to expedite these issues. I have to speak with the boss again and he's po'd (pissed off). This is considered a mission critical issue here. We may have to make other arrangements. Apparently Google mail is not very reliable. I think I would have pushed for something else before we switched if I had known the level of unreliability," he wrote.

Another administrator identified as Techlinks wrote: "This outage has hit us pretty hard and we've been out of email for 24 hours and now business is suffering."

Google Apps is a suite of hosted collaboration and communication software and services designed for workplace use. Its Premier edition costs US$50 per user per year and includes a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee for the Gmail service.

In August, Gmail had three significant outages that affected not only individual consumers of the free Webmail service but also paying Google Apps Premier customers. As a result, Google decided to extend a credit to all Apps Premier customers and vowed to improve its problem-notification methods.

"We're committed to making Google Apps Premier Edition a service on which your organization can depend. During the first half of August, we didn't do this as well as we should have," Google said a letter sent to Apps administrators at the time.

One outage, on 11 Aug, lasted about two hours but affected almost all Apps Premier users. The other two, on 6 and 15 August, hit a small number of Apps Premier users, but both outages were lengthy, lasting for some affected users more than 24 hours.

SaaS suites like Google Apps have become popular because customers don't need to install them on their own PCs and servers, something that in theory reduces the effort and cost of software installation and maintenance. These SaaS applications are also designed from the ground up for Web-based collaboration of workgroups.

However, a major concern and objection to SaaS applications is their performance and availability, since they're provided by the vendor via the Internet and accessed by end users through browsers. When the applications become slow or altogether unavailable due to problems in the vendors' data centers, IT administrators have little to do but sit and wait for the problem to be fixed.

This often creates extremely stressful and tense situations for them if the outages are prolonged and their end users become angry.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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