Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gmail outage hits 35 million users

Gmail, Google popular email service went down on Tuesday for millions of users. While the outage lasted less than two hours, most users were only inconvenienced for less than half that time. Nonetheless, the downtime caused many Gmail users to complain by way of the social networking platform Twitter.

Anger & amusement

Hashtags #gfail and #gmail filled the Twittersphere shortly after 17:45 London time [16:45 GMT] after people found they were unable to access their accounts. Instead they were greeted with an "Error 500" screen and a prompt to "try again in a few minutes". "Thanks everyone for the reports of 500 errors, we're working on it," Google responded on its Twitter feed.

The outage affected users in countries around the globe, though it was initially unclear how many were unable to access their accounts. Gmail, which is one of the world's most popular email services, claims more than 350 million active accounts. The company said overall fewer than 2% of its users were affected, though this would still add up to at least 7 million accounts. Later the company acknowledged that as many as 10% of its customers may have been affected accounting for around 35 million users.

While some of Google's customers were irate, others saw a funnier side to the web giant's embarrassment."Google Shuts Down Gmail For Two Hours To Show Its Immense Power," The Onion, a satirical online news journal, joked on its Twitter feed.

By 19:00 London time [18:00 GMT] Google said that Gmail had been restored for most of its users and thanked them for their patience. Google's status page had a more in depth summary of events. "The problem with Google Mail should be resolved," the Internet giant said, "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support. Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better."

Previous outages

Prior to Tuesday's crash Gmail has only been down seven times since its 2005 launch, and only once in the last three years. Google reported that Gmail was available 99.984% of the time in 2010, and 99.99% in 2011.

Google is not the only web giant that has been affected by outages. Hotmail, one of Google's leading rivals, has also been struck several times in the last few years by server crashes. In 2005, a Microsoft customer service representative confirmed an outage, blaming it on a faulty server. However the company refused to discuss the exact nature of the problem or to indicate how many customers' email accounts were implicated. At that time some 187 million people used Microsoft's Hotmail service. Since then there have been at least 4 reported outages, one of the most serious of which occurred in 2011 when millions of Microsoft users were left unable to access Hotmail, Office 365 and Skydrive because of a major service failure [BBC / MSNBC]. That outage lasted more than two and a half hours though users in Europe would have been little affected due to the fact it occurred at around 03:00 GMT.

In August the same year both Hotmail and Yahoo customers found themselves unable to access their accounts [CNET / CNET]. Twitter, Facebook, Google's blogger service and Amazon have also seen downtime in the past few years. Even as recently as today [Wednesday 18th April] the website showed Twitter and Yahoo mail as having problems. However due to the growing user base of Google any fault or error seen in any of its services tends to create more media attention. [BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail / CNET / ZDNet]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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