‘Millions of Google email users left in lurch,’ screamed the Daily Mail as if the new Queen Mum statue in London had been vandalised.

‘Tech world grinds to a halt’ went the headline [] on The Guardian website, presumably with tongue ensconced in cheek.

‘Gmail is down, down, down,’ chorused The Times of India [], channelling the old Status Quo number.

‘Users panic as Google Mail goes down,’ wept VNUnet as the tragic images of offline computing were shown to a shocked world for the first time. Some viewers might have found some scenes upsetting.

‘GFail: Google’s Gmail has fallen and can’t get up,’ tried Canada’s National Post.

‘Panic on the streets of Carlisle,’ sang The Smiths, although this last one took place a while ago and had nothing to do with a few hours of downtime at a website.

So Google’s mail service was down for a few hours. And? It was doubtless a pain in the backside for a lot of people. It will have disrupted many businesses that pay for Google Apps also, although many run their enterprise Google Mail alongside client/server systems and Google’s recently added offline capabilities will have mitigated the problem.

It’s not good for Google and it will act as a handy stick for anti-cloud forces but let’s be serious, how good is your current email system? Research suggests that email downtime is pretty common. One report suggests an average of 1.6 incidents per month. That’s one incident every three weeks, roughly. Not good either but not surprising. Google suggests two and a half hours per month is about the downtime you might expect of an in-house system. Sounds plausible to me, although it’s hard to tell in a wicked world where everybody lies about uptime and performance.

This is not to underestimate the disruption caused by the Google failure and the company at least needs to show that it can geographically localise failures to avoid future outages affecting huge numbers of users around the world. But everybody needs to be a bit more honest about their own efficiencies (and inefficiencies) before moral panic blinds us to the opportunities of web working over client/server -- and vice versa, of course.

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