Google Apps customers miffed over downtime

Google Apps users are upset over availability problems with the suite's Gmail service

Google is having problems keeping its uptime pledge to some paying customers of its Google Apps suite of hosted services, throwing into question the company's ability to offer guaranteed levels of application reliability.

Little over a month after introducing Google Apps' Premier version, which includes a 99.99 percent uptime commitment, Google is failing to meet that service level agreement (SLA) for an undetermined number of customers.

"Google has not met its SLA with me, that's correct," Grant Cummings, an IT professional from Ohio and Premier customer, wrote in an e-mail interview.

On Tuesday, Google Apps' Gmail service suffered significant availability problems that began in the morning (U.S. Eastern Time) and were declared officially solved for all users early Wednesday afternoon. The problems also affected Gmail users who aren't on Google Apps.

Prudential Preferred Properties, a real estate firm in Chicago, was also affected: a handful of its about 500 users couldn't access their e-mail for several hours on Tuesday, said Camden Daily, Prudential's director of technology, in a phone interview.

The company moved from the Standard to the Premier edition several weeks ago and has been happy with the suite, but hopes that the Gmail problems don't become chronic, because the incident was disruptive for the agents affected, he said.

"I assume yesterday's problems are part of the growing pains. But if it continues to be an issue, that's not something we can live with," Daily said. E-mail is a crucial tool in the real estate industry, because agents need to send and receive time-sensitive documents like closing statements to do their jobs, he said.

Should a problem like this affect Prudential again, Daily wants Google to be quick in alerting him about it, before his users start complaining to him. On Tuesday, Google sent him an alert hours after the problem hit the company, which doesn't help Daily respond to his users. "I want Google to tell me there are problems. I don't want to have to be asking Google if something is happening," Daily said.

This was at least the third significant Gmail downtime incident this month for Google Apps customers, most of whom are small businesses and universities. In all cases, the problems affected an undisclosed number of Premier users, as well as those on the free Standard and Education versions.

"Work all but stopped for us yesterday for an entire afternoon, and there was no explanation that I could give my clients, except e-mail was down and I do not know when it is going to be back," David Lusky, owner of U.S.-based BluSKY Designs, wrote in an e-mail interview.

After using the Standard version for a month, BluSKY has suffered about eight hours of downtime. "The product itself is great, but the reliability issue is a real concern," wrote Lusky, one of four Google Apps users in the company.. Depending on how things go with the Standard version, the company may move later to the Premier version.

Meanwhile, Cummings, who uses Google Apps for two domains where he has the sites Nasal Passages and Ay-Ziggy-Zoomba, has experienced hours-long Gmail outages twice in recent weeks.

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