Google extends Apps Premier credit for Gmail outages

The company is hoping to convince users to stay with its SaaS offerings and not be scared away by service outages

Due to the three outages that Gmail suffered earlier this month, Google will extend a credit to all paying customers of its hosted Apps suite and has vowed to improve its problem-notification methods.

In an apologetic e-mail sent Wednesday to Apps Premier administrators, Google said it will automatically extend annual subscriptions by 15 days at no extra charge. Apps Premier subscriptions cost US$50 per user per year. This 15-day extension is the maximum credit of the 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement Google offers Premier customers for Gmail.

"We're committed to making Google Apps Premier Edition a service on which your organization can depend. During the first half of August, we didn't do this as well as we should have," reads the letter.

One outage, on August 11, lasted about two hours but affected almost all Apps Premier users. The other two, on August 6 and August 15, hit a small number of Apps Premier users, but both outages were lengthy, lasting for some affected users more than 24 hours. In all of the incidents, users were unable to access their Gmail accounts, getting instead an error message when trying to log in.

In Wednesday's letter, Google said that system reliability is a top priority and that, although it can't promise zero downtime, it commits to solving outages quickly. "More importantly, we promise you focused discipline on preventing recurrence of the same problem," the letter reads.

In addition, Google plans to improve the way it informs Apps Premier administrators about system problems via a new dashboard that will become available in a few months.

That dashboard will provide descriptions of problems, especially of their impact on users; a regularly updated estimate of when the issues will be resolved; and, if necessary, a formal report within 48 hours of the resolution. The report will describe the incident, explain its cause, list corrective and preventive actions taken, and provide an outage timeline.

Google officials will also make themselves available to participate in live discussions about the incident with Apps Premier administrators and their companies' managers.

The plans for fuller disclosure of problem causes, fixes and prevention plans sound good to Gartner analyst Matt Cain, but he's confused as to why Google didn't start applying these principles with this letter, which he found slim on details.

"I'd like more transparency into what actually happened and why. They don't go into that [in this letter]. That's what they should have done in this note," Cain said. "Why start in the future and not now?"

Crediting all Apps Premier customers across the board and taking proactive steps to prevent future outages were the right actions for Google to take, said analyst Rebecca Wettemann from Nucleus Research.

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