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

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

August 19, 2013

3 Min Read

Google Maps Updated: 10 Cool Features

Google Maps Updated: 10 Cool Features

Google Maps Updated: 10 Cool Features (click image for larger view)

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 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 apps, google sites, the entire enchilada," posted a user named "Rick" to the 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.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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