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Why You Can't Trust Google

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googlelogoIf, like our little company, you run your business using Google Apps, you’re playing with fire. For time and again, the company has proven that despite all its talk, its offerings are as unreliable as those of any other service provider.

Today, once again, Google’s Gmail service has gone on the blink, thereby disrupting our company’s work flow. For a few minutes, I quite enjoyed the fact that there was a lot less email than usual in my Inbox, but its absence gets in the way of getting any work done. Just to be clear — we have a paid version of Google Apps, so I have a legitimate reason to gripe about the Gfail.

What really bothers me is the crap Google posts on its Google Apps status page. “We are aware of a problem with Google Mail affecting a small subset of users,” it posted this morning. Seriously, guys? If you look at the number of people complaining on Twitter and Facebook, it sure doesn’t look like only a small subset of users is affected by this.

A large number of entities depend on Google for applications that include Gmail. The city of Los Angeles has been moving to Google Apps, as are other civic departments. Even the U.S. government is toying with Google’s offerings. But that would be a mistake — Google, as some of us can attest, is still not ready to reliably offer cloud services. Not even email!

77 Responses to “Why You Can't Trust Google”

  1. Sorry, but the only thing that Google does that’s enterprise class is search. Everything else is an experiment that lives in perpetual beta status. It’s for this reason that I choose not to choose Google for anything other than search.

  2. It’s not that Google, or Gmail in this case is worse than competing products. It’s that Google has in effect established itself on the basis of product perfection. How long did it take for Gmail to lose the ‘beta’ status? And yet on a product that has supposedly made it past Google’s high standards for a full, non-beta release, this product has proven itself to be no more reliable than the other reference products.

    Maybe we’d all be a little less frustrated had Google kept the ‘beta’ header up for another couple of years.

  3. Panch Rupaiyya

    First it was AT&T, now it is Google’s turn to tremble following Om’s displeasure. I am sorry to hear of this interruption in your galactic mission. How dare Google do this to you, who has been charged with re-designing the floor plan of the universe.

  4. Walter Riker

    Having been with email for only 16 years I would have to say that Google is doing better than most in-house email servers have done in the past. I cannot tell you how many times that I have been totally disconnected from some in house exchange server. I agree that we have become dependent upon email for a great number of things but in perspective it sure beats the courier of old – even with it’s outages. Oh and the Google outage today got me also.

  5. What is really interesting is the supposition many have that Google is somehow superior in terms of its technology development. Many of the blatant mistakes they make go almost unreported. For example some months ago they changed the way Google News worked. In the RSS feeds it produced it added a very common GET parameter to the URLs (I think it was sid). As a result links to services such as Bloomberg no longer worked.

    It was an astonishing “baby mistake”, and one that would have shown up if they had bothered to do any testing at all.

    So, I think it just needs to be understood that Google have developed a wonderful search engine, that works better than we seem to expect, but that the rest of their technology development is nowhere nears as good.

  6. Krishna Chodavarapu

    So Om, having said all this, are you looking to move your email from GMail? In my opinion, cloud based services are by far and away more reliable and cost effective (well, not if you pay for it I suppose) way to get email.

    • Yo bro – I pay 50 bucks per user for gmail (google apps premium) so do not think this is only related to free accounts.

      The bigger Microso$t became the higher the price and the lower the service – same for Yahoo, now it seems the same for Google.

      What the hell is it that says that performance and quality have to degrade with scalability?

  7. Same argument could be said for web apps. I do software consulting. For truly critical apps, anything that is web-based is out of the discussion. The accessibility of web apps is superb, the unreliability of the different hops between your computer and the server kills the whole thing.

    Anyway, now with all the talk about “rich client apps” we are going back, yet again, to client/server computing. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.

    The funny thing is, if you use Outlook as a client for Gmail, there has been no interruption of service. Nor was there the last time Gfail happened. Go figure.

  8. ouch. lost love.
    We use Google Apps in our business. Lately I haven’t been affected by GFail but I do see some bugs in Google Spreadsheets. We depend heavily on that and sometimes the bugs drive me nuts. But again any software you buy are likely to have these bugs.
    But Google mail as is is amazing. I can’t imagine having my business email accounts for free anywhere else (atleast so easy to use).

    • you should look at what microsoft is selling – exchange, im, sharepoint in the cloud – i am running it and it has been very reliable – we have not experienced any downtime to date! I think microsoft calls it the business productivity suite – $15 per user!

  9. Alain Edger

    Well in my company, we use Microsoft Exchange for our 20’000 inboxes. I wish it was at least as reliable as Gmail. We have outages a few times per week, such as slowdows and total unavailability.

    So cut them some slacks. Their track record is not bad, relatively.

  10. Poor choice of headlines, Om. “Why you can’t depend on Google” would have been a better wording. I don’t trust Google (I have my browser programmed to block Google cookies, for instance) or depend on it (I run my own email servers), but those are two distinct issues.

    If you pay for Google Apps, check their SLA:

    It’s actually not all that bad as far as cloud services go. Most cloud providers don’t even offer one. I tend to be extremely wary of stateful cloud services that are not for throw-away use, but to be fair, you would have to compare them to the actual availability and cost of doing it in-house. If you ran Exchange, your uptime would probably be worse than Gmail’s.

  11. vijay gill

    This is the squeaky wheel bias, people that are affected are going to be the ones making the most noise. For people whom this was working fine, aren’t. So the data are skewed towards the guys being affected. I can’t believe you fell for that.

      • vijay gill

        Om, this is a statistics game. here is an idea for you. Get normalized (minutes of outage per user) stats across the board, estimate where cloud services are and then calculate out what the aggregate minutes of outage are on a user basis if it was run in house. I’d be curious, because while it is easy to see the world is coming down if any particular time ‘you’ are at subject to outage, it would be far more useful to see aggregate stats.

  12. I usually agree with and enjoy your posts Om. However this one is nothing more than childish whining. I especially have a problem with the following statement:

    If you look at the number of people complaining on Twitter and Facebook, it sure doesn’t look like only a small subset of users is affected by this.

    While everyone you know may post a significant amount on Twitter, however the actual number of people that post is much much smaller than the number of those with accounts. Now remove those that don’t have gmail or google apps and you have a very small population of people, most likely on the west coast. So common sense tells (by your very own admission) us that it is indeed a very small subset of users that are affected. I’d wager that most if not all are on the west coast.

  13. While Google Apps uptime isn’t 100%, it is quite good compared to my experiences with both other web-based email services and top tier corporate (fortune 100) companies.

    Admittedly, their communication regarding outages tends to be less than optimal, about on par with most corporations (unfortunately).

  14. A) IMAP still works, and did during last outage.
    B) Gmail is at least as reliable as any exchange server i’ve ever had to deal with. Not to mention (in a corporate environment) the T-1 line, the power, the phone system, etc. Nothing is 100%, Gmail is more reliable than most others, and free (though I understand you pay, no one promised more reliability for paying).

    I understand it is frustrating and has now happened twice in one month, but over time Gmail has been very reliable, and is better than Hotmail or Yahoo. If you want to do it yourself by all means set up an exchange server but my bet is you have similar problems as Gmail has.

  15. this is the risk of so much centralization. everything fails at some point – it’s a matter of reducing the size of the impact. in this case, so many people have flocked to google’s services that any failure has a huge impact. sit back and enjoy, it WILL happen again.

    • Then again, if it’s a bigger impact, it may be more likely to have more support and get resolved more quickly because of the magnitude :)

      Not saying that’s necessarily the case here, just saying bigger impact doesn’t necessarily imply worse.

      • in cases like this it would need to get resolved magnitudes faster! total up the lost minutes and hours of every person impacted and it becomes quite significant. their response times to this seem to be quite average in my estimation.

  16. A) IMAP still works, and worked during the last outage.
    B) Reliability is still at or near 99%. Ask around large companies that use Exchange and ask about their reliability – probably pretty similar. I think the fact is that NOTHING works 100% of the time – telelphones, power, 3G, etc. You may pay for Gmail but its a lot cheaper than running your own Exchange server and even that wouldn’t guarantee 100% reliability.

    I understand people’s frustration, but occasional outages should be expected. 2 in one month is a little unusual, but how about the long stretches of time with no outages?

    • Brian

      IMAP stopped working for about an hour for me.

      More importantly I think there is a growing incidence of google mail outage over past few months. People have complained about lost emails and other such issues.

      @Fred you put it best on behalf of all of us who are too frustrated with Google.

      • I absolutely agree. I’ve actually been noticing regular outages for over the last year and frankly have been surprised that there has not been a more vocal response (until now). The last six months have been increasingly worse. Perhaps some issues have been regional however the recent outpouring of complaints may imply a growing broader national, international issue. Additionally, and again surprised that this has not yet surfaced in the public discourse, I am noticing increasing issues using Gmail with Firefox (someone please take a note). I find that when that occurs I sometimes am able to access Gmail in Safari this while Gmail still being inaccessible in Firefox. There have weeks where this is a daily occurrence. There is definitely a bug there.

      • During the outage, my mail “appeared” to be working. I sent a test email to another email account to very…. and it never arrived. That’s much worse than what you all experienced. How can I trust my gmail if mail seems to work, but never arrives at the destination???

  17. Andy Burnett

    I understand your concern but I really don’t feel the complaint is valid. I have used all sorts of corporate email systems, over the years, and they have all failed from time to time. In my experience, Gmail has actually been pretty reliable – not perfect, but still quite good. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t continue to strive for perfection, but I think it is unfair to suggest that they aren’t a viable alternative.

  18. Agreed. Behind the scenes, Google is really an inept operation. You would not believe the magnitude of the criminal element that calls Google Apps home. *AND* Google only slaps their wrist. This is *not* a world class organization, folks. Do your homework before leaning 100% on Google.

  19. Couldn’t agree more. Its even more scary that day by day, more services are ‘dependent’ on their offerings i.e. Contacts with iPhone, Calendar options, Docs – may be its us who have to be blamed to not have _one-provider-has-all_.

    But again, the whole point of having one interface/system bring them all _is helpful_ but only as long as things work.