What I learnt from the GMAIL outage

We all have heard about it, many of us (most of us) were affected by it, some of us actually saw it. This makes it a fertile subject for conversation; in person and over a cold pint, or online. I have read at least a dozen blog posts that explain why the GMAIL outage underscores the weakness of, and the reason for imminent failure of cloud computing. I have read at least two who explain why this outage proves the point that enterprises must have their own mail servers.  There are graphs showing the number of tweets at various phases of the outage. There are articles about whether GMAIL users can sue Google over this failure.

The best three quotes I have read in the aftermath of the Gmail outage are these:

“So by the end of next May, we should start seeing the first of the Google Outage babies being born.” – Carla Levy, Systems Analyst

“Now I don’t look so silly for never signing up for an e-mail address, do I?” – Eric Newman, Pile-Driver Operator

“Remember the time when 150 million people couldn’t use Gmail for nearly ten years? From 1993–2003? And every year before that? Unimaginable.” – Adam Carmody, Safe Installer

Admittedly, all three came from “The Onion“.

This article is about none of those things. To me, the GMAIL outage could not have come at a better time. I have just finished reconfiguring where my mail goes and how it gets there. The outage gave me a chance to make sure that all the links worked well.

I have a GMAIL account and I have email that comes to other (non-GMAIL) addresses. I use GMAIL as a catcher for the non-GMAIL addresses using the “Imports and Forwarding” capability of GMAIL. That gives me a single web based portal to all of my email. The email is also POP3’ed down to a PC, the one which I am using to write this blog post. I get to read email on my phone (using its POP3 capability) from my GMAIL account. Google is a great backup facility, a nice web interface, and a single place where I can get all of my email. And, if for any reason it were to go kaput, as it did on the 1st, in a pinch, I can get to the stuff in a second or even a third place.

But, more importantly, if GMAIL is unavailable for 100 minutes, who gives a crap. Technology will fail. We try to make it better but it will still fail from time to time. Making a big hoopla about it is just plain dumb. On the other hand, an individual could lose access to his or her GMAIL for a whole bunch of reasons; not just because Google had an outage. Learn to live with it.

So what did I learn from the GMAIL outage? It gave me a good chance to see a bunch of addicts, and how they behave irrationally when they can’t get their “fix”. I’m a borderline addict myself (I do read email on my phone, as though I get things of such profound importance that instant reaction is a matter of life and death). The GMAIL outage showed me what I would become if I did not take some corrective action.

Technology has given us the means to “shrink the planet” and make a tightly interconnected world. With a few keystrokes, I can converse with a person next door, in the next state or half way across the world. Connectivity is making us accessible everywhere; in our homes, workplaces, cars, and now, even in an aircraft. It has given us the ability to inundate ourselves with information, and many of us have been over-indulging (to the point where it has become unhealthy).

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