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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined

Google hasn't explained Friday's four-minute blackout of all Google services, but experts say a hack attack is not the likely cause.

Google Maps Updated: 10 Cool Features
Google Maps Updated: 10 Cool Features
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Google's services went dark Friday, as the company suffered a massive -- albeit temporary -- blackout.

During the outage, which occurred Friday afternoon Pacific Time, the volume of global Internet traffic reportedly plunged by about 40%, according to Web analytics firm GoSquared.

"That's huge," GoSquared developer Simon Tabor said in a blog post. "As Internet users, our reliance on Google.com being up is huge. It's also of note that pageviews spiked shortly afterwards, as users managed to get to their destination."

According to Google's Apps Status Dashboard, all of its services -- from Gmail and Google Documents to Postini and Blogger -- were affected by the outage, which the search giant said lasted less than five minutes.

"Between 15:51 and 15:52 PDT, 50% to 70% of requests to Google received errors; service was mostly restored one minute later, and entirely restored after four minutes," according to Google's dashboard.

[ Use Gmail? Don't expect your messages to be confidential. See Gmail Is Not A Privacy Problem. ]

Multiple analysts discounted the outage having any long-term impact on Google's revenue. "This individual outage doesn't really matter," Greg Sterling, a researcher with Sterling Market Intelligence, told the Financial Times. "The idea that Google could go down is unsettling to people, but it doesn't create a problem for the company unless it starts to happen more frequently."

A Google spokesman, contacted outside of normal business hours Monday, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about what caused the outage. But Sterling said the blackout likely wasn't the result of a hack attack. "Somebody in Mountain View probably unplugged something, then plugged it back in," he said.

People temporarily robbed of access to Google's services quickly posted on other sites. "My life came to an end as I know it for three minutes -- Google everything was down -- google.com, google apps, google sites, the entire enchilada," posted a user named "Rick" to the Sitedown.co website. "I thought this [expletive deleted] was failsafe?"

Likewise, social analytics firm Topsy recorded a surge in related tweets, including a joke from Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Land blog. "Google went down because it was told it could no longer have 20% time and didn't like it," he tweeted, referring to recent reports that Google has discontinued the practice of giving all employees one day per week to work on personal projects. That "20% time" policy reportedly lead to such innovations as Gmail, Google Talk and Google News.

The outage is a reminder that cloud services aren't infallible. Earlier this year, for example, Google Apps was inaccessible to some customers for a couple of hours. Last year, meanwhile, Amazon experienced four blackouts, including a Christmas Eve outage that was blamed on an Amazon developer accidentally deleting essential data from production systems.

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moarsauce123
50%
50%
moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2013 | 11:56:06 AM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
If 40% of all Internet traffic goes to Google then equating Google with the Internet is not that far fetched. Rather scary!
moarsauce123
50%
50%
moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2013 | 11:55:06 AM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
Welcome to the cloud! Just imagine you build your business 100% in the cloud and lose transactions for a four minute period. That is real cash going somewhere else. The cloud can be just one option in a mix of different models.
Zman7
50%
50%
Zman7,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/20/2013 | 4:47:08 AM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
The other majority of the world who aren't nerds didn't even notice because it was Friday afternoon and they were at happy hour having fun.
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 8:18:23 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
I'd be very worried if indeed there were some single system, without any kind of backup or failover, that could be unplugged, shutting down everything. I'm sure there's more to it.
OtherJimDonahue
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50%
OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 7:27:17 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
"Somebody in Mountain View probably unplugged something, then plugged it back in," he said.

That's an OK explanation when something happens in my home. But inside Google? Not so much.
JerryJ
50%
50%
JerryJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 6:25:38 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
I understand and empathize with the enormous personal and business impact of Sandy. And although millions were impacted, the impact was geographically constrained. This was a 40% drop in Internet traffic globally. I don't know the statistics, but I'm guessing that the traffic on the Internet from Google searches is but a small fraction of the total. If true, that means there was a very large number of people and businesses without email, office productivity services like Docs, and more. Like Charlie Babcock, I'd like to know more. A lot more.
cbabcock
50%
50%
cbabcock,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 6:10:48 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
I would like to know more. Granted it was a short term incident. But it affected all Google services, except search: Maps, Gmail, Docs, Drawings, Sites, Analytics.
TerryB
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50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 6:06:49 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
Funny how you equate "internet access" to Google being available. I didn't even know Google was down until I read this. But when users ask me if our Corp proxy server supplied internet service is down, I always try to access Google homepage to verify (just because such a lightweight, fast loading page). Based on this, I better start trying Bing also to verify if internet access is really down. :-)
gev
50%
50%
gev,
User Rank: Moderator
8/19/2013 | 5:14:01 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
During Sandy our access to gas was interrupted for about a week. At the same time, we had no electicity and very limited internet access.
Let me assure you that the lack of internet access pales in comparison with the lack gas in your car, and inability to start your furnace without electricity.
Just saying to keep things in perspective.
JerryJ
50%
50%
JerryJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 5:01:48 PM
re: Google's Four Minute Blackout Examined
The response to this outage seemed to be all about the impact to Google's reputation and finances. Is nobody else concerned that we have become so dependent on a single provider? Setting any discussion of monopolies aside, the real concern here should be, what impact a much longer term Google outage, say a few days or weeks, have on the global economy. "That's huge"' might be an understatement.
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