Google Takes a Fall: "Embarrassing"

The search giant's massive worldwide network turns out to be less than fool-safe.

Gmail outage

Various Google-related sites were hit by slowdowns and outages due to a situation the company likened to a congested airport runway.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) issued a brief explanation of the problems that affected some users worldwide.

Various reports from around the globe indicated users had trouble with Google's search page and its applications, including the Gmail e-mail service. In some cases, the services couldn't be accessed, while in others, response time was minutes instead of the fractions of a second Google is famous for.

Google said an error in one of its systems caused it to direct some Web traffic through Asia, creating a traffic jam. As a result, Google said about 14 percent of its users experienced slow services or even interruptions.

In a blog post, Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president for operations, compared the problems to a delay with an airline flight:

"Imagine if you were trying to fly from New York to San Francisco, but your plane was routed through an airport in Asia. And a bunch of other planes were sent that way too, so your flight was backed up and your journey took much longer than expected. That's basically what happened to some of our users today for about an hour, starting at 7:48 am Pacific time."

The ripple effect

Web site performance monitoring firm Gomez said the slowdown had a ripple affect beyond Google's applications.

For example, the firm, which routinely monitors and benchmarks the performance of leading Web sites, found that retailer Target's Web site delivered a lengthy 81-second response time throughout this morning as a result of the Google outage.

While he didn't know the specifics of what Target and other affected sites were running, Gomez CTO Imad Mouline said Web sites typically have to wait for JavaScript code used by Google Analytics and other applications to fully load ahead of other services.

"In most cases, the browser only loads one piece at a time, and nothing else until the JavaScript loads," Mouline told "For most browsers, a piece of content such as a JavaScript only takes a few hundred milliseconds, but when that number goes up, it impacts the site."

Google has had other service issues with its online apps, including one in March caused by a programming bug in its online Google Docs service. That glitch affected a much smaller subset of users than today's snafu.


Speed has been a hallmark of Google's search engine, which typically provides results in milliseconds. The company even strives to mitigate slower Web access to get users results as quickly as possible.

"Even if the Web is too slow, it's our problem," Udi Manber, Google's vice president of engineering, said earlier this week at the company's Searchology event.

The Google blog post concluded that "'s especially embarrassing when a glitch like this one happens. We're very sorry that it happened, and you can be sure that we'll be working even harder to make sure that a similar problem won't happen again. All planes are back on schedule now."

Update adds comments from Google and Gomez.

Article courtesy of

Tags: Google, search, services, e-Mail

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