Update: There is a harried Google Apps adviser named Mark whose life I don't envy. Once, sometimes twice a month it seems, he gets to try to sooth angry users of Google Apps, the search engine's Web-based applications that enable collaboration via e-mail, word processing and spreadsheet documents.
These users, some of whom pay $50 per user per year for paid versions of Google Apps SAAS (software as a service), flame Google in righteously angry posts saying that its Gmail, Docs, or some other apps are inaccessible.
Google suffered a prolonged outage and a bothersome bug this week. From Wednesday through Thursday, some Gmail users couldn't access their e-mail accounts, seemingly a reprise from the infamous Gmail outages from this past August. Then from Thursday until today, some Google Apps users had trouble with their Start pages.
In this discussion group, Bill W. complains that his CEO can't access his company's Gmail while others issue complaints in a separate group thread.
Google Apps adviser Mark, who noted that "every issue is normally unique and so there unfortunately isn't any normal timeframe we're able to provide" for a fix, finally reported a fix to the Gmail 502 errors by 9 p.m. EDT on Oct. 16, more than 28 hours after the original outage was noticed.
In the Start Page bug, users were frustrated by broken links and busted gadgets that prevent end users from reaching their e-mail inboxes. Josh wrote Oct. 16:
"When I click on "get artist themes" I get a "page cannot be found" error. Issue 2) Within the "gmail" gadget, it shows email from my google apps email account, just as it should. However, when I click on "Inbox" within the gadget for our google apps domain, it brings up my PERSONAL GMAIL account rather than my Google Apps Email Account."
This problem has been allegedly fixed as of 12:34 EDT this afternoon, according to Google Apps adviser Mark.
He declined to say what caused the outage, but a Google spokesperson told me today that users had access to all their data at all times; there were 2 broken links and the data was presented in a different way, which caused some confusion for some users.
Gmail and Docs outages are pretty de rigueur, though the wacky start pages and busted buttons bug a new one on me. What isn't new is the overall issue: can users depend on Google Apps?
Indeed, some Google Apps users scoff outright at others who put mission-critical business operations in the hands of SAAS from Google. Note this Apps user's response to Bill W.'s complaint about being locked out of Gmail:
"lol, you can't be serious about this. You all are using a free Email service for business? What kind of dumb%@# made that decision? I would want to know, then fire that moron."
However, Martyn Drake has a more thoughtful response to Bill W.'s issue:
"Just because something is 'free' does not mean that it should not endeavor to meet high standards of service and reliability. HOWEVER, people should be aware that they have no recourse if things DO go wrong. There is no SLA, there is limited official support."
He then suggests that users who want more support procure Google Apps Premier Edition, which does have 24/7 phone support, among other things. Drake also wisely keeps back-up e-mail accounts in case things do go wrong. Well put, Drake.
Whether you're running on-premise e-mail applications from Microsoft or IBM or SAAS apps from Google or Zoho, you should always back up your data.
There are other questions at hand. Companies such as Google live entirely in the cloud. Will Google be able to grow its apps businesses if it keeps suffering outages and bugs?
More broadly, will users tire of SAAS inaccessibility and return to the on-premise licenses afforded to them by Microsoft, IBM and others?
I hope not. There is a bright future in cloud computing, but just as we back up data we create and store in on-premise collaboration platforms, we must back up any data we transact in SAAS.
I love the cloud, but it can break our hearts just like any sweetheart can.