The Great Gmail Outage of February 2009 - as the bloggers are already referring to it - left users unable to send or receive mail for about four hours earlier today. I agree that, at a time when the company is trying to lure more business users into the cloud-based Google Apps, an outage is not very reassuring.
But let's not be so quick to judge Google, or the cloud for that matter, based on one outage. Web sites go down all the time. And while Google's was a major outage - with people all over the world affected - all was back to normal within a few hours. From Google's blog:
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. Our engineers are still investigating the root cause of the problem. 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.
I remember a few years back when my company's email went down - for days, not hours. It would come back and then go away again as the IT team worked to troubleshoot and fix the problem. The folks working on that IT team weren't necessarily e-mail experts, though. They were charged with doing everything from upgrading software to configuring network settings. Troubleshooting email was just another job duty.
I still maintain that a cloud-based solution - whether Google's or anyone else's - is a more efficient way of running a business. Don't let one outage - no matter how widespread - tarnish your opinion of a cloud solution. Outages happen both in the cloud and at the local client level. And having been through a days-long outage, I'd say that this restoral time was pretty quick.
One final thought: who out there communicates by e-mail alone these days? Speaking for myself, I'm reachable on Twitter, Facebook, SMS text, and Yahoo IM - among other services. Increasingly, e-mail isn't as business critical as it once was. If you need to communicate with people to get the job done, I'm sure you can think of at least one other way to keep those communications alive beyond just e-mail.
Yes, the outage was bad. But it wasn't the end of the world.