Google blames outage on system error and online traffic jam

After stirring up a Twitter storm, exec lists cause of widespread Google Apps failure

Google is blaming this morning's Google Apps service outage on a system error that caused a major traffic jam.

The company reported that the outage, which started a little before 11 a.m. EDT, caused about 14 percent of Google users to face slow service or interruptions. The problem affected all Google products, including Google Search, Google News, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Reader.

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The outage appeared to start clearing up a little after noon EDT.

"We've been working hard to make our services ultrafast and 'always on', so it's especially embarrassing when a glitch like this one happens," wrote Urs Hoelzle, Google senior vice president of operations in a blog post. "We're very sorry that it happened, and you can be sure that we'll be working even harder to make sure that a similar problem won't happen again."

Hoelzle explained that the system error directed some of their Web traffic through Asia, creating the hangups and interruptions.

"Imagine if you were trying to fly from New York to San Francisco, but your plane was routed through an airport in Asia," he wrote. "And a bunch of other planes were sent that way too, so your flight was backed up and your journey took much longer than expected. That's basically what happened to some of our users today."

Twitter and the blogosphere erupted with chatter about the outage this morning. Comments about the failure were flying on Twitter, with "googlefail" quickly becoming one of the most searched terms on Twitter.

"Outages like this are highly publicized today, users are vocal and the news spreads like wildfire," said Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "It will have an impact on Google, as it makes their services look less than reliable. While the problem was very short-lived, just a few hours in most cases, the hue and cry from users and the tech media echo chamber make it sound like it was much worse. With at least some users, this will confirm in their mind that they can't rely on Google Apps as their one and only set of tools."

Caroline Dangson, an analyst for IDC, said today's outage made her glad she's not dependent on Google Apps for her work.

"When we look at businesses dependent on Google Analytics or Gmail, they can't afford to have Google crash on them," she added. "It's bad for business. The enterprise will start to consider using something that's always on -- more reliable. It's a problem when you have this kind of hiccup system-wide and you're not seen as dependable."

In February, Google's Gmail had a highly publicized two-and-a-half-hour outage.

That February outage came just a week after Google acknowledged that some users had experienced problems getting results from Google News searches over a span of more than 14 hours. Some users reported that they weren't getting any results when searching for keywords, such as "Microsoft" and even "Google," in Google News. Other users reported that entire news sections, such as Science/Technology, were coming up empty of stories.

And last December, Google confirmed that there was a technical problem with Google Talk and the Web-based Gmail chat system. One day early in the month, messages created by a "subset" of users were left unsent because of glitches in the messaging system, according to Google spokesman Andrew Kovacs.

This story, "Google blames outage on system error and online traffic jam" was originally published by Computerworld.

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