Understanding the Gmail Shut-Down

With even the White House sometimes relying on Google, the blackout raises real issues

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Yesterday the world ended in fiery apocalypse when Gmail, Google's much-used free email service, went down for about 45 minutes. As The Atlantic's James Fallows predicted, this has led to much pontification on the meaning of our dependency on such services, and the security risks involved in storing millions of users' information on massive, remote servers. After all, even the White House has relied on Gmail and other Google products.

  • What Happened?  Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch translated the official statement. "Gmail has thousands and thousands of overlapping mail servers which can pic up the slack if any one fails because the data is replicated and spread all around," he wrote. "But there are also request servers which do nothing but route the requests for email to whichever server (with the right emails on it) happens to be available. It tuns out that Google took down some regular email servers for routine maintenance, and because of some recent changes, that overloaded the request servers"
  • As Traffic Explodes, Anticipate More Outages  Douglas A. McIntyre argued that the Internet is changing and can no longer accomodate rapidly growing traffic. "The Internet is not invulnerable, as most people who use it assume. It may not even be reliable," he wrote. "The Internet as the public has known it and used it for the last decade may not be the Internet for the future. The system is getting old and rickety, particularly for the volume of commerce it has to accommodate. The prophylactic software that was meant to protect the web is less effective."
  • Test for Twitter  The service, which quickly became an alternate means of communication, was bombarded with tens of thousands of messages referencing Gmail. "The influx of tweets continues to be amazing," wrote TechCrunch's MC Siegler. "This could be a good test for Twitter to see if it can stay up and everyone bitches about one of the most popular web services on the planet being down."
  • Opportunity for AOL Mail  Grandma's favorite chain email forwarding service was emboldened by the crisis. Brian Stelter tweeted, "Doesn't anyone around here still use AOL e-mail?" The official AOL Mail Twitter account shot back, "Lot's of people do. There is nothing wrong with using AOL Mail. Why should there be?" Snap!
  • Who Cares?  Wonkette's Jim Newell mocked, "We hate to be like those people who think a temporary Gmail crash is worse than Hitler & the apocalypse combined but honestly, it's just really inconvenient." When the service later returned, he wrote, "Thank you for keeping us safe, Dick Cheney!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.