Google Gaffe: Gmail Outage Shows Pitfalls of Online Services

Google’s Gmail system was down for 2.5 hours earlier this week, the sixth such outage in the past eight months.  It isn’t unusual that an e-mail system crashes, but most such occurrences are limited to one organization.  When Gmail, a service Google touts to businesses as more reliable and easier to use than Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes/Domino, goes down, it makes headlines – as well it should.

Applications that exist “in the cloud,” such as Gmail and Salesforce.com, come with risks that are not readily apparent to many people, especially relatively unsophisticated users and managers in smaller organizations.  Gmail was first introduced in 2004; a business version of the offering was released in 2007.  Its pricing model, $50 per user per year, is very attractive to many organizations that lack the ability to manage their own IT infrastructure.  Yet outsourcing your e-mail, which essentially is what using Gmail amounts to, is far different than outsourcing other aspects of an operation, such as the company cafeteria.  Unless cooking is your core competency, there is no reason to keep that operation in house.  But e-mail is the lifeblood of almost every organization today; rather than pick up the phone, people send e-mail – and they expect that it’s received promptly on the other end.

Just imagine if all of the phone lines to your office failed – not today but ten years ago, when the telephone was the most important means of communication (along with fax, I should add).  That’s what Gmail’s users were facing on Monday.  The silence was deafening.

In addition, after five years and 30 million users, many of them corporate accounts, Google still considers this a beta product.  Apparently, based on the adoption rate, companies have had no compunction about using beta-ware for mission critical e-mail services.

Would a non-cloud based system perform better?  Perhaps not, but when it fails, not everyone would go down at once.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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