Gmail's bounced back from its recent multihour outage, but questions over what went wrong are thus far unanswered. The Google mail service was offline from about 4:30 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. ET (or from 9:30 a.m. till noon for nations on Greenwich Mean Time). Google says it is now "investigating the root cause" of the issue.
Tuesday's Gmail outage left users seeing only a "502 server error" page when trying to login to the Web-based system. Word of the problem spread quickly via Twitter and didn't take long to hit the tech blogs, where it was quickly dubbed as "the great Gmail outage of 2009." Some unofficial reports indicated the outage lasted as long as four hours. Google says it was only about two-and-a-half.
"We know that for many of you this disrupted your working day. We're really sorry about this, and we did do everything to restore access as soon as we could," Gmail Site Reliability Manager Acacio Cruz stated in the Official Google Blog.
"Obviously we're never happy when outages occur, but we would like to stress that this is an unusual occurrence," he added.
Gmail Outages Over Time
While "frequent" would probably be an exaggeration when it comes to describing Gmail outages, "unusual" might be missing the mark by a hair, too. In the past six months, Gmail has suffered some form of downtime on five separate occasions before this week's incident:
• July 16, 2008: A similar "502 error" struck Gmail, leading to what was described as a "long outage" by affected users.
• August 6, 2008: Technical trouble knocked an "undetermined number" of Gmail users (including both regular users and paying Google Apps clients) out of their mail for about 15 hours.
• August 11, 2008: An issue with Google's "contacts system" caused Gmail access to go offline for a "couple of hours" for numerous users. Both individual accounts and Google Apps accounts were affected again.
• August 15, 2008: The third outage within a span of two weeks left users locked out of their accounts for more than 24 hours. That pesky "502 server error" popped up on the Gmail login page here, too.
• October 16, 2008: Users went a full 30 hours without access. Google didn't elaborate on what caused the issue.
It may sound bad, but Gmail does appear to have a reasonable amount of uptime, all considered. Following last fall's series of outages, a Google rep told the IDG News Service that Gmail suffers only about 10 to 15 minutes of downtime per month, giving it an average uptime rate of 99.9 percent. He noted that, according to some independent reports, on-premise e-mail systems tend to see twice the amount of offline time--anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, on average, every 30 days.
So, my final thought: Gmail was down. It was annoying. We're all (myself included) going to gripe about it for a few days, and we have every right to do so. But outages occur anywhere you go, and worse things could happen. In the end, Gmail's still a damn fine service, and--let's be honest with each other here--none of us is about to jump ship over this.