After the recent Gmail outage for several hours, internet is filled with
uproar over the downtime and, as expected, the fear mongers with special
interests in the failure of Cloud Computing are using the opportunity to whip up
confusion in the minds of users. Wow, it appeared more like the opportunistic
hyenas waiting to attack, as it was shown in the movie The Lion King.
Tuesday’s Gmail outage was 6th in the past 8 months. In case if you are
interested, PC World has the timeline of Gmail downtimes. Actually, such frequent outages
doesn’t bode well for the company as well as for the concept of serving software
through the clouds. However, if one takes a hard look at the data, Gmail’s
uptime is still much better than many On Premise Hosted email systems like
Exchange. This is not an excuse for the outage and it is also very important
that Google strives to offer 100% uptime of their services. At the same time, it
is important for users to take a hard look into the data available and
understand that Email on the Clouds is still a better option than the On Premise
The beauty of Cloud Computing is that it offers more choices to the users
than the traditional computing environment. The so called Gmail outage is,
actually, the lack of access to Gmail using the web browser. In fact, email was
available to the users either through offline access (akin to having email
stored in the desktop PC) and also through Imap available in the desktop email
clients like Outlook, Thunderbird etc. and also in the email clients available
on mobile phones like Iphone. Any portrayal of users being completely cut out of
their email is either very simplistic or downright nonsense.
Most of the media outlets were responsible in their reporting of this outage.
It was flashed along with other important news items in the world and there were
also some analysis/opinions about the uproar against the outage. This is pretty
normal and, in fact, such negative exposures will keep Google on the leash and
will ensure better uptime in the future. But I found one irresponsible article
in one of the Indian newspapers. The article borders along plain naiveté to
downright stupid. It was published in both the print as well as the online
editions of The Economic Times. The author of the news article tries to
spin Google’s explanation as a cover up and, also, tries to portray the outage
as a failure of the cloud computing technology used by Gmail.
However, analysts say Google may be covering up its failure by terming it a
One indication of this is that since Google had put in place
the ‘Captcha’ system, distorted letters that can only be recognised by humans to
rectify the error, this would have been done only in the case of a botneck
attack. An attack where thousands of zombie PCs controlled by group of
mischief-makers were asked to access Gmail simultaneously, resulting in a crash
of Gmail’s data centres.
If this is not enough, the article also quotes an analyst, who doesn’t want
to identify himself/herself, talking emphatically about the failure of the
“If it was a maintenance issue, they would know where the traffic load came
from causing the crash. Why would they put in place Captcha if the problem was
at their end,” said a Delhi-based analyst who did not want to be quoted. If it
was really a code testing failure, they should have had the same side effects
during their lab tests. Also, the response time to the problem should not have
been four hours if it was an in-house cause, said the analyst.
Are we talking about President Obama’s Healthcare pick here? Why does an IT
analyst, who talks about an important IT news of the day, wants to be anonymous
while trying to trash a promising technology? Why can’t the analyst own up to
his/her opinion about a topic in which he is supposed to be an expert? Why is
this newspaper publishing some technology related information from the anonymous
sources? If it is about a political news/gossip or about a news from
terrorists/spy agencies, I can understand the importance of protecting the
anonymity of journalistic sources. This is about a technology that is affecting
the everyday lives of users and businesses. Their article is a case of pure
irresponsible behavior. The consequences for such fear mongering tactics are
great and any responsible news organization should not be indulging in such
tactics. I just hope such things doesn’t happen in the future.
Update: Abi, in the comments section of this post, points out to something I missed when I wrote this post. The Economic Times is part of the Times of India Group that offers competing email product under the indiatimes.com brand. This, actually, reinforces my point about media irresponsibility.