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Problem with Google's Gmail Service Raises Questions about SaaS Solutions


October 17, 2008

Problem with Google's Gmail Service Raises Questions about SaaS Solutions

By Michael Dinan
TMCnet Editor


The crash of Google’s (News - Alert) Gmail service for some users this week is raising questions among IT professionals about the efficacy of using free e-mail and other SaaS solutions as a foundation for business communications.

“You all are using a free e-mail service for business?” one blogger, identified as Tha Juggla, posted at about 7:30 p.m. last night – more than a day after Gmail went down. “What kind of (dummy) made that decision? I would want to know, then fire that moron.”
The comment followed Google’s announcement at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the company’s Apps discussion forum that it had detected a problem that prevented Gmail users from accessing their accounts.
Nearly 24 hours after that announcement, Google provided this update: “The issue affecting a small number of Gmail users is being addressed, and many users have already had their service restored. All affected users should have their service back online today, if not already restored. We know how important Gmail is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously, and we apologize for the inconvenience.”
The problem was fixed shortly after 9 p.m. yesterday, Google said in a forum posting here:

Yet for some, including one Google Apps forum poster identified as Bill W, the loss of e-mail access appeared irretrievably damaging.
“Since yesterday around at least 4:00pm my CEO cannot access his mail,” the poster said. “He gets a 502 temporary error. Support keeps telling me it is affecting a small number of users. This is not a temporary problem if it lasts this long. It is frustrating to not be able to expedite these issues. I have to speak with the boss again and he’s po’d. This is considered a mission-critical issue here.”
General speaking, Software as a Service, or “SaaS (News - Alert),” is a model in which an application is hosted as a service provided to customers on the Web. Since customers don’t need to install and run the application on their own computers, they don’t need to worry about software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support. At the same time, customers give up control over software versions or changing requirements.
Google Apps includes hosted collaboration and communication software and services designed for businesses. Its Premier edition costs $50 per user per year. The SaaS offering is seen by many as the front-running challenger to on-premise applications such as Microsoft’s (News - Alert) Office and Outlook.
Yet the Google program has had problems before.
As Jan Carlos Perez of reports, both free and paying Premier customers saw outages over the summer.
“One outage, on Aug. 11, lasted about two hours but affected almost all Apps Premier users,” Perez reports. “The other two, on Aug. 6 and Aug. 15, hit a small number of Apps Premier users, but both outages were lengthy, lasting for some affected users more than 24 hours. In all of the incidents, users were unable to access their Gmail accounts, getting instead an error message when trying to log in. It seems the tech gremlins that caused the problems in August are back again.”
Even so, many are defending the SaaS model and Google’s e-mail offerings in particular – just not the free version.
One forum poster, Martyn Drake, wrote that just because something is free doesn’t mean it shouldn’t strive to meet high standards. The problem, Drake said, is that for those using a free service, there’s nowhere to turn when a problem such as this week’s occurs.
“For businesses (or) customers wanting immediate access to support via telephone or via correspondence as well as ensuring that they are compensated for when things do go wrong, they should look towards the Premier edition rather than the Standard edition,” Drake said.
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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