Are Google and Facebook Too Big to Fail?
Test and Monitor | Posted December 11, 2012

Gmail down! Gmail dow... oh, nevermind, it's back up. As you may have seen, the Interwebs fell into chaos yesterday after Gmail went down for a matter of minutes. Google users took to the usual social media sites to both complain and joke about the dire repercussions of the gargantuan e-mail provider being down (some insinuating that the brief Gmail outage was an early sign of the Mayan apocalypse).

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It wasn't quite an early apocalypse, but it also wasn't just Gmail that was down. Chrome, Google Calendar and Google Docs all appear to have had intermittent issues around 12 p.m. EST. Still, what makes this string of failures notable is that Google's own App Status Dashboard was not even recognizing that there was a problem for quite some time. It seems as though the entire world was well aware of - and publicizing comments and stories about - the outage before Google's own monitoring system even knew a problem existed.

Meanwhile, in Zuckerberg-land, Facebook dealt with problems of its own just a few hours later. While it doesn't seem to have been as wide-spread at the Gmail outage, the social networking site appears to have been down for about half an hour, starting around 6 p.m. EST - I'm convinced they were just trying to help make up for the all the lost productivity from the Gmail outage.

While this is a mildly embarrassing situation for both Google and Facebook (nearly as embarrassing as losing your well-dressed monkey at Ikea), it's safe to say that people will completely forget about both outages by, well... probably five minutes ago.

But a serious question should come out of the uproar from these minor outages: Are there certain sites that are simply too big to fail? Are we at the point that we can't get any work done (Gmail) or do any socializing (Facebook) when these sites, or their mobile counterparts, are down for mere minutes?

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I know it seems inconceivable, but imagine what would happen if Google (or even just Gmail) were to go down for eight hours. Two days. A week! How many people would be unable to work? How many small businesses would shut down? My own roommate, who works for a startup in Cambridge, simply left her office and went to the gym for an hour yesterday because she couldn't be productive without Gmail and Google Docs.

"I use drive for my docs, gmail for work and personal, Gchat for office communication, calendar for meetings and events... And then Pinterest went down with the same error and I was like, 'Ohh hellll no!'"

Yeah, she's pretty sassy.

At what point do we all have to say, "enough is enough"? At what point do we realize we're relying too much on the stability of a single - or a handful - of sites or apps to function in our daily lives? And at what point do we stop forgiving these pivotal sites for their outages? Let's not forget, this isn't the first time in recent memory that Google, particularly Gmail, has seen this type of problem. Remember last week? Last month? September? And this is coming from one of the most reliable sites on the planet.

Software quality has a serious impact on quality of life. It has become such a crucial part of everyone's daily lives, yet is too often overlooked. It's time we take a fresh look at the importance of load test and Web monitoring, not just for the big guys, but across the board. Otherwise, we may just find ourselves dealing with the ultimate apocalypto event: A Facebook-Google-Twitter outage. Then what would we have left? Well, Reddit. Just Reddit.

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