Saturday, May 14, 2011

Google's Blogger outage raises concerns

It was a black Friday 13th for millions of bloggers who use Google's Blogger service after the company suffered an outage lasting some 20 hours. Everything seemed to return to normal by Saturday, but there were some anxieties and concerns raised by this latest cloud outage.

Google had earlier warned users they may experience an hour long outage on Wednesday as the company performed maintenance tasks. However it did not go according to plan, and users found they were unable to post to Blogger for nearly a whole day. But there were further problems as anything posted after 07:37 PDT [14:37 GMT] disappeared.

A "frustrating day"

Google said it had been "a frustrating day" dealing with the issue and apologized to the millions of people who use the service. Google said they understood the frustration its users were feeling. "We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we've also felt your pain," the company said in a blog post.

"We're very sorry that you've been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We're nearly back to normal — you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored.  Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation."

Details of what caused the outage were sketchy, Google only saying they "experienced some data corruption" during the scheduled maintenance. The effect was broad, but also inconsistent. Bloggers and readers experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small number of Blogger users, Google estimated at some 0.16%, may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts - though the company did not elaborate [CNET / AFP].

Google not the only victim of outages

Blog hosting site Tumblr has also experienced outages in the past with nearly 50 hours of downtime over two months last year. In December, Tumblr blogs were unavailable for almost 24 hours. Earlier this year Flickr made headlines after accidentally deleted thousands of pictures from one user's account, though it did eventually restore the pictures [PC Mag]. Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site, has also suffered major outages, in some cases deleting accounts or data going back years [tvnewswatch]. Even the Internet telephone service Skype went down last Christmas leaving many people with only the expensive option of using a landline to contact their friends and business associates abroad [BBC].

Concerns over cloud computing

But the most recent outage has raised eyebrows and questions from technology bloggers and commentators. The outage comes the same week as the Internet giant lauded its innovatory moves forward with cloud computing and the launch of Google Chrome OS based netbooks [Google I/O].

Google talks of storing all data in the cloud, to be accessed easily via an Internet connection anywhere in the world. "Your apps, documents, and settings are stored safely in the cloud. So even if you lose your computer, you can just log in to another Chromebook and get right back to work," the company stated in a recent post about its latest venture [Google Chromebook features].

Ed Bott, writing for ZDNet questioned the case for moving all of one's documents into the cloud. "What if this had happened to another Google service?" he writes. What if every document written and saved in Google Docs on Wednesday was suddenly taken offline on Thursday, and access to an important presentation, notes or research for a client meeting became impossible.

Data back-up strategy

This is the strongest argument against putting everything in the cloud. If data matters, users should not rely only on one storage method. Local storage can fail too, as laptops, and their drives are not infallible. But the cloud cannot be entirely relied upon either. There are some who not only store data in the cloud and on their PC, but who also back it up onto a separate drive and burn it to disc periodically. Overkill, maybe, but if that data is important enough, one needs to be doubly sure it it retrievable.

Google has had downtimes with many services. GDocs, GMail and now Blogger have all suffered from severe outages. But with the exception of a tiny minority of users everything has always returned to 'normal'. Google, like any data professional, also backs data up. When GMail failed for some customers earlier this year Google turned to tape back-ups in order to restore accounts [BBC]. That problem in March was caused by a "storage software update that introduced the unexpected bug" [GMail blog].

While Google's Blogger was back up Friday with most posts restored [including those posted by tvnewswatch], many people will be rethinking their data storage strategy. It may also be sensible to think about other back-ups for email, VOIP and other web-based activities.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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