Google Gmail Goes Offline: Not a Feature, Full Blown Outage
Article by George Norman
On 25 Feb 2009
It was just last month that Google announced a new feature for their mail client, the Google Gears powered Offline Gmail that would allow you to seamlessly browse through your inbox, read email and compose new ones, regardless of the fact that your internet connection went down. Yesterday, the 24th of February, the reality of going offline hit home when Gmail went down for about two and half hours. It was an almost complete outage that kept people out of their inboxes and once again outlined our dependency on Google - I’m talking about the This site may harm your computer incident from the start of the month.

The issue has been remedied, and Google provided a comment on the incident. “The outage itself lasted approximately two and a half hours from 9.30am GMT. 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. Our priority was to get you back up and running. Obviously we’re never happy when outages occur, but we would like to stress that this is an unusual occurrence. We know how important Gmail is to you, and how much people rely on the service,” said Gmail Site Reliability Manager, Acacio Cruz.


After Gmail went back online, it was not exactly smooth sailing. Users had to fill a CAPTCHA and prove they are indeed human and they are trying to access their own mail accounts. This is a precautionary measure that Google takes when you repeatedly try to access your Gmail account. It seems that the outage was caused by “a routine maintenance event” in a European data center. Normally these events do not cause an outage, but in this case something went wrong.

“Unexpected side effects of some new code that tries to keep data geographically close to its owner caused another data center in Europe to become overloaded, and that caused cascading problems from one data center to another. It took us about an hour to get it all back under control,” Acacio Cruz explains.

The outage was not complete, it must be noted: you could still access your inbox via your mobile phone, or via POP and IMAP. The catch is that POP and IMAP had to be previously enabled. Alternatively, if you had emails to send out, you could have used the various online services that allow you to schedule outgoing emails.

It pains me to say, but there are more bad news for Gmail users. According to Senior Technology Consultant and Sophos press contact, Graham Cluley, a phishing campaign is targeting Gmail users and is using the Google Talk chat system to propagate itself. You will receive an unsolicited instant message asking you to view a video; if you click on the link provided in the message you will be directed to a web page called ViddyHo, where you are asked to login to Google Talk. This is of course a scam meant to gain access to your Google Talk login credentials.

Moving on to the good news, because it is not all gloom and doom, it seems that Google is willing to compensate paying Gmail users that were hit by the outage in the form of a 15-day credit (which is worth about $2 since a year’s license is $50). It is also good to know that there is a new Labs feature called Title Tweaks that when enabled allows you to better see the Gmail tab in your browser. If you keep a Gmail window open, expecting to get new messages, most times the tab will only display “Gmail – Inb…”. With Title Tweaks you get to see a larger tab and thus precisely observe how many messages you have in your inbox.

Tags: Google, Gmail, Title Tweaks, Phishing
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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