For at least the third time this month, Google is grappling with performance and availability problems in the Gmail service of Google Apps, the suite of hosted services that many consider a potential threat to Microsoft's Office suite of desktop software.
The latest problem began affecting users on Tuesday morning (EDT). It remained unresolved Tuesday evening, affecting also regular Gmail users who aren't on Google Apps, according to a company spokesman.
"A number of Gmail users are having some difficulty accessing and sending mail, and we are working as quickly as we can to resolve the problem. Some Google Apps accounts are also affected," he wrote via e-mail. "We know how important e-mail is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously."
The software-as-a-service model, in which applications are hosted centrally by their provider, has generated enthusiasm as an alternative to the traditional approach of having users load and maintain software on their own servers and PCs. Championed by Google and seen as a threat to Microsoft's core business, this software-as-a-service model, however, has an Achilles heel: availability problems.
Several threads on the Google Apps discussion forum show that users started reporting problems accessing the Gmail component of the suite at around 10 a.m. EDT. A Google official who posts messages on behalf of the company in Google Apps discussion boards under the Google Guide name acknowledged passing on the complaints to the appropriate Google staffers in a thread at around 1:10 p.m. EDT.
Some time later, at close to 4 p.m. EDT, Google Guide popped up in another discussion thread, acknowledging the problem existed but saying it hadn't been solved yet.
"A subset of our users are still experiencing 'Server Errors' and 'Oops' messages when trying to access Google Apps email accounts. Since many of you depend on email communications, we want to assure you that we are working diligently to find a resolution. This is currently our top priority and we'll continue to post updates as they become available," this Google official wrote.
A similar Gmail access problem in Google Apps erupted on March 12 and apparently lasted at least two hours, as acknowledged by Google Guide in a thread.
On March 1st, Google Apps' Gmail was hit with an outage that affected some users starting at around 1:30 p.m. EDT, but it wasn't until more than 8 hours later that Google Guide declared the problem solved.
How Many Affected?
All three incidents this month have affected an undetermined "subset" of Google Apps users, including those on the Premier version of the suite, who pay a fee that grants them a service-level commitment from Google of 99.99 percent uptime. In fact, the March 1st incident prompted Google to offer its Premier customers an extension on their contract at no extra charge.
"As a gesture of appreciation, we are offering all of our Premier Edition customers the maximum credit specified in our SLA," Google Guide wrote at the time. "For those receiving a credit, your free trial of the Premier Edition will still expire on April 30th, 2007, but we will extend your contract to May 15, 2008. This translates to an extra 15 days of Google Apps free of charge."
Grant Cummings, an IT professional from Ohio, is a Premier customer affected by the Gmail problems. He pays the $50 per user annual Premier fee for himself and his wife, and hosts two personal sites on Google Apps: Nasal Passages and Ay-Ziggy-Zoomba.
"Today is the second major outage of service for one of us. About 2-3 weeks ago I was unable to log in, send or receive e-mail on my account, and today she's in the same boat," he wrote in an e-mail interview with IDG News Service.
Those having technical difficulties with Google Apps can contact the support team through the Google Apps Help Center.