Google is grappling with performance and availability problems in the Gmail service of Google Apps for at least the third time this month.
Google Apps is the suite of hosted services that many consider a potential threat to Microsoft's Office.
The latest problem began affecting users on Tuesday. It remained unresolved several hours later, also affecting regular Gmail users who are not on Google Apps, a company spokesperson said.
"A number of Gmail users are having some difficulty accessing and sending mail, and we are working as quickly as we can to resolve the problem. Some Google Apps accounts are also affected," he said. "We know how important email is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously."
The software-as-a-service model, in which applications are hosted centrally by their provider, has generated enthusiasm as an alternative to the traditional approach of having users load and maintain software on their own servers and PCs. But although the model is championed by Google and seen as a threat to Microsoft's core business, it has an Achilles heel: availability problems.
"A subset of our users are still experiencing 'Server Errors' and 'Oops' messages when trying to access Google Apps email accounts. Since many of you depend on email communications, we want to assure you that we are working diligently to find a resolution. This is currently our top priority and we'll continue to post updates as they become available," a Google official wrote in a post on a user discussion board.
A similar Gmail access problem in Google Apps erupted on 12 March and apparently lasted at least two hours.
On 1 March, Google Apps' Gmail was hit with an outage that affected some users and was not solved for eight hours.
All three incidents this month have affected an undetermined "subset" of Google Apps users, including those on the Premier version of the suite, who pay a fee that grants them a service-level commitment from Google of 99.99% availability. In fact, the 1 March incident prompted Google to offer its Premier customers an extension on their contract at no extra charge.
"As a gesture of appreciation, we are offering all of our Premier Edition customers the maximum credit specified in our SLA," a Google official told users at the time. "For those receiving a credit, your free trial of the Premier Edition will still expire on April 30th, 2007, but we will extend your contract to May 15, 2008. This translates to an extra 15 days of Google Apps free of charge."