Blog Pile

When the Google Cloud Shits on You

Cloud computing is the looming buzz word. All these magical “apps in the cloud” sound exciting… until the cloud fizzles on you.

In June, we switched our email service over to the Google Enterprise version for Education, and until this morning at 11:04am PDT I was a happy camper. My IMAP email connection was failing to connect from the desktop. When I went to the web version I got a 502 server error. I then IM-ed the office in Austin to see if they were able to access email. Everyone there is okay. I tried another computer. I rebooted. I thought of prayer, but stopped short.

Then I called the customer support number (11:30am) and spoke to someone who confirmed there were some intermittent outages, and I was assured their engineers were working on it. No problem, not having email for a short while was nice. Just for grins and a multipronged approach, I submitted a report via their web form (using my cogdogblog gmail address as a return), and got this response at 11:41am:

I understand that several users at your domain at experiencing 502 errors.

Typically, these errors are temporary, however, it appears for a small subset of our users this issue has persisted for longer. We’ve escalated this to our engineers with the highest priority and they are working diligently to resolve this problem.

That me now in the small subset club. But look! Those clever Google genius engineers have me as thei highest priority! They are working diligently!

Around 4:00 PM I began to wonder about that level of priority and diligence. I called again the crises support line and got the same answer. Engineers were working on it, blah blah blah.

By 8:00 PM, now 9 hours since the outage, I felt it was time to call and request something more specific of an answer. I got cheery Sylvia with the lovely British accent. I explained the lenght of the outage, that it did not feel like I was getting Enterprise service, and I was looking for an explanation and an expected timeline. I explained I was unable to do my work. I laid it on. I was going offline in 12 hours for 4 days and needed to take care of my work before I was off the grid.

I got a lot of sympathy.

And nothing else. She said she understood my frustration (I was ready for Sylvia to “feel my pain”) but she had no information she could share. Her hands were tied.

I fired off another web form complaint, requesting an explanation:

From: cogdogblog
Subject: Email Has Been Out for 9+ hours
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 2008 21:02:47 -0700

My “enterprise” email account has not worked for at least 9 hours. I have called twice and all I am told is someone is “working on it”. However, I work online and I am crippled by lack of access to my email and I want a more immediate explanation. This is NOT enterprise service. I want an an exact explanation of the issue and I want to know a timeline when I can expect to be able to perform my work.

The “Google Team” (at least I am up from noreply) greeted me:

We’ve received your report and have opened a support ticket. The ticket number can be found in the subject of this message. Tickets from Education Edition customers are handled in a priority manner.

followed by a bunch of useless trouble shooting suggestions.

Hmm, no longer “highest” priority. Hmmm getting a form response email is zero priority.

So what I am staring at is my “dashboard” which informs me of an email service outage:

Your users may be experiencing issues accessing Google Apps services- As of 10:49:54 PM PDT on August 6, 2008

* Services impacted: Email

Our team is working quickly to resolve this situation as soon as possible. We will continue to post updates here as we learn more.

The “As of” timestamp is just a javascript date insertion, it is no status.

I started googling to see if I could find an answer why google email was toasted. I found this in the Gmail discussion forums
Help Discussions > Announcements and Alerts > Temporary error (502
:

August 6
11:06 am

The Gmail Team is currently aware of a subset of users being affected by the 502 error on login. Our engineers are actively investigating the issue, and we will provide updates as soon as we have them. We appreciate your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Duh. And the “update” 6 hours later?

August 6
4:59 PM
Update: our engineers have identified the source of the problem and are working to restore account access as quickly as possible. We know how important email is to our customers, and we are taking this very seriously. We apologize for this inconvenience, and we will provide updates as new information becomes available.

How the _____ is this “Temporary”??

And even more.

The GMail Service Level Agreement:

Gmail SLA. Google shall use all reasonable commercial efforts to ensure that the Gmail web interface is operating and available to Customers 99.9% of the time in any calendar month. In the event Customer experiences any of the service performance issues defined below due to Google’s failure to provide Services, Customer will be eligible to receive the Service Credits described below (the “Gmail SLA”).

This must be one geological aged month, cause at 12 hours of outage, I am not getting 99.9% uptime– I am getting 100% pissed off.

If this is an Enterprise product, I want Enterprise Support. I want answers. I want to know why the ______ I have no email for 12 hours. I want someone to explain the problem or connect me to someone who can.

But for now, Google’s cloud is just dropping the Hershey Squirts on me.

I made my own dashboard.

Tomorrow I am going camping for 4 days. I wonder if those diligent engineers who are toiling in the depths of the google email mine shafts are making me their highes priority. I wonder if I will ever see email again. I wonder….

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. I find it strange that “apps” is not a higher priority for Google. It is hard money and it is the best way for them to break out into a new market. For me, down time is just the tip of the iceberg, not having access to other google products (like reader) in an apps account is really annoying. If they want to limit the services that you can use, at least make it easy to link accounts! If your cogdogblog GMail spoke to your NMC GMail in a nice way then NMC GMail going down wouldn’t be a problem as you would be able to just do everything from cogdogblog. But no, for some reason Google wants us to keep all of our Google accounts completely separate, making us perform weird sign-in/ email-forwarding acrobatics!

  2. Did you see this? ‘Guy gets locked out of all Google apps’ – http://tinyurl.com/6yuqsv

    How about this? http://tinyurl.com/5ua328

    “GOOGLE has snatched what is believed to be its biggest single client in the world – the NSW Department of Education – away from its rival Microsoft to claim up to 1.3 million new users of its free email product.”

    I wonder if they get any better support when things go wrong!

    And people wonder why I don’t use Gmail. :-/

  3. Sometime in the middle of the night my mail came back, so the cloud is now shiny.

    Despite my grumpiness, I love the way Google works when it works, and this was the first time I have experienced anything like this, but yes, Andre it seems like its a different service. I dont mine having my CogDgBlog email separate from my hosted nmc account, and actually I am logged on to both at same time with no conflict in same browser.

    Yes, Sean, I wonder ;-)

    I am not complaining about Google as a cloud application, I am suggesting that the customer service and support needs to step up a notch for those that shall sail among the clouds.

    But who I am to make the Great Google respond?

  4. While this is not in the same caliber as your experience, I recently spent 7 hours on the phone with “Peter” from Dell in Bangalore trying unsuccessfully to solve a wireless connection problem.

    After telling me, having exhausted his scripts, that he couldn’t help with this problem, he cheerfully asked if I had any other problems he could help with.

  5. @CogDog: Who are you to make the Great Google respond? A paying customer who relies on the service as promised to get his work done. If my ISP couldn’t delever email for a day I wouldn’t be very happy about it. Are we to expect less from Google because your email is “in the cloud” and we are more forgiving because we understand the unreliability of web-based services?

    Then again, not having email for a day isn’t the end of the word (although probably made more frustrating by your looming deadline). I suspect much of the frustration here isn’t the inconvenience, but the sense you were getting the run-around by “support”.

  6. Actually Sean we are not a paying customer- we have the free education enterprise version of Google apps. Still poor service is poor service. Like I can IM Sergey and say “Yo WTF?”

  7. Ah… that puts a slightly different spin on it then. Then again, calling it an “enterprise version” can lead to some understandable expectations, otherwise why call it that?

    On reflecting on your experience and Steve’s experience with “Peter” from Bangalore I know I’ve had similar frustrations when dealing with large organisations, and to me the problem is that no matter how genuinely caring and desirious of being helpful “customer service agents” like “Peter” from Bangalore and Sylvia are, at the end of the day we are just an anonymous file on their computer. They don’t really know my story and there is no chance of developing an ongoing relationship with these people, as I get someone different each time. I often find myself repeating my story over and over again. I also often have to go through the same basic steps with each phone call (“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”) which can get frustating. The result is that I feel de-humanised.

  8. I’ve seen tier 3 support use something like, “they are working diligently to resolve this problem,” in reference to things we were doing. It means to me the Google engineers had no idea why this was happening, could not replicate the issue, and had no time table to resolve it. Those are the worst. Well… Until it is solved. Then it becomes a story to talk about all week.

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