Gmail Outage Irks Users

By April 18, 2012

Image: GoogleGoogle scrambled Tuesday to fix an outage on the company’s popular email service Gmail that may have affected as many as 7 million users. Affected users saw an error informing them that their accounts were “temporarily unavailable.”

Complaints of the outage started to surface on Twitter around mid-day, with Search Engine Watch terming the error a “Gfail.” Many accounts remained unaffected throughout the outage.

“We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail,” read an update on Google Apps issued at 12:42pm. “We will provide more information shortly.”

Just over an hour later, another update announced the problem had been resolved. Only two percent of Gmail users were affected by the outage, Google said. It’s not clear whether that refers to two percent of all accounts or to two percent of users who tried to access their email during that period.

“The problem with Google Mail should be resolved,” read another update. “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.”

Gmail, which launched in 2004 as an invitation-only beta, was lauded at the time of its release for providing users with unprecedented amounts of free storage and for an intuitive, conversation-oriented interface. It was opened up to the public in 2009, and currently has more than 350 million users.

Tuesday’s outage wasn’t Gmail’s first service interruption. The webmail service has caught flack for a series of previous outages, though no major ones have been reported in the past year. More serious — and controversial — are claims that Google’s ad software violates users’ expectations of privacy, and that deleted messages stay on company servers for a period of time after being discarded.

On the business side, service disruptions have the potential to damage the cloud computing model, which Google has banked on heavily with enterprise-oriented web software like Google Docs and Gmail. The cloud-oriented notebook computers that run Google’s Chrome OS have been criticized, not entirely fairly, for relying so heavily on cloud services that they are rendered useless out of the presence of a web connection.