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Google's Gmail outage – were you ready?

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2009-02-27

The global outage of Google’s Gmail was a disaster for millions of users who found they couldn’t function without it – but good publicity for Gmail’s new “offline” service. Will you be ready next time?

An outage in Google's Gmail service Tuesday may well have handed the company a public relations victory in promoting its new "offline" service.

As the company admitted on the official Gmail blog, it suffered a major technical breakdown for several hours that prevented users around the world from accessing their e-mail accounts.

Bloggers responded to the outage immediately. On the site Lifehacker, Jay Hao-En Liu said he was shocked by his colleagues' reliance on Gmail. "Half the people here were unable to work for two hours," he said. "It's times like this that you realise how much you rely on your inbox for information."

 

Weaknesses of “cloud” computing

 

The explosion in "cloud" computing, which allows web users to store and access files, photographs and e-mails online rather than on their computers, means service failures like this can have serious consequences for the end user.

"I have no doubt that ‘cloud’ computing is a key element of our computing future," said Francis Pisani, who writes a regular technology blog on French daily Le Monde's website. "But what people in Silicon Valley fail to understand is that ‘always on’ is still an elusive reality for most of us. We need to be able to synchronise and use our content on and off line.”

 

Google has recently released an "offline" function to Gmail that increases its competitive advantage in a number of ways.

First, the service allows travellers access to their Gmail accounts when on planes or trains - times when they do not have internet access. They can read their e-mails – which have been downloaded to their hard drive – and write responses that are sent when internet access is restored.

Second – as became clear yesterday – the offline service allows users to keep working when Gmail itself goes down.


The function also allows Gmail to provide a service already available on traditional computer-based email programs such as Thunderbird (free) and Outlook (not free).

"Gmail made a very positive step in this direction with Gmail offline,” said Pisani.

 

“Yesterday's incident is an excellent reminder that synchronisation tools need to be systematically implemented and that, even in Silicon Valley, they can be useful."

 

But, as another Lifehacker poster noted on Tuesday,  there can be life offline. "TBW" posted a note reminding us there is, after all, more to life than reading and writing emails.

 

He said: "What amazes me is how people stop working and think they can't function without email. There is always something else to be doing. Students can study. Mums can go shopping. Businesses - do the paper work! Life doesn't stop just because your email isn't there."

 

 

Date created : 2009-02-25

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