Google's Apps team has taken customer complaints to heart and is extending full service-level agreement credit to paying customers whose Google Docs, Sites and other Apps services were disrupted by a a few outages earlier this month.
Google said in an e-mail that it is giving SLA credit to all GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition) customers for the month of August, good for a 15-day extension of their service. SLA credits will be automatically applied to the new service term for accounts with a renewal order pending.
This is the least Google could do and I'm glad they stepped up to compensate customers for lost business, but I wonder if the credit is commensurate with the dollars GAPE customers lost as a result of the outage? We'll never know.
Millions of Google Apps users, some of whom paid $50 per user per year for GAPE, found themselves knocked out of Google Apps and Gmail after an "access issue" knocked out the company's SAAS (software as a service) suite for 15 hours Aug. 6 to Aug. 7, then, more briefly on August 11 and 15.
Several users questioned on the Google Apps Discussion Group forum if they can depend on Google Apps to help them collaborate with customers, partners and suppliers.
More broadly, the outage threw doubt on whether or not we can depend on the Internet as a platform for running businesses. Analysts said the outage is part of the growing pains associated with the newer SAAS computing paradigm.
I agree. Outages happen in any computing environment, though they are more public in SAAS because the cloud computing is so nascent and has spawned an ecosystem of new companies led by Salesforce.com, whose own track record in SAAS applications is pretty good.
What Google needs to do is learn from these server issues, correct them and get better at providing customers more disclosure and updates about what the problems are and when they will be fixed. Google failed to do this for its Apps outage.
Accordingly, the company also said in its e-mail that it is working on "better communication when outages occur."
To wit, the company is building a dashboard to provide Apps users with system status information. Available in a few months, the dashboard is designed to help Google describe the problem and its impact on users.
Our belief is during the course of an outage, we should be singularly focused on solving the problem. Solving production problems involves an investigative process that's iterative. Until the problem is solved, we don't have accurate information around root cause, much less corrective action, that will be particularly useful to you. Given this practical reality, we believe that informing you that a problem exists and assuring you that we're working on resolving it is the useful thing to do.
Included in the dashboard will be a frequently updated estimated time-to-resolution bulletin and a formal incident report within 48 hours of problem resolution.
This report will contain a business and technical descriptions of the problem, with emphasis on user impact and root cause; actions taken to solve the problem; actions taken or to be taken to prevent recurrence of the incident; and a time line of the outage.
This move is better than the credits, in my opinion. Information is the most important thing in running a business. Without it, users have indicated they are blundering around blindly in the dark.
When the outages happened, users on the Google Apps Group discussion board didn't ask for money; they wanted to know when the problem would be fixed and promises that it would never happen again.
I like the idea of the dashboard with its continuously updated bulletins, and I don't mean to get cute, but, assuming the dashboard is based on SAAS, what if that goes down, too? Is there a backup for the dashboard?