This is What Caused the Massive Worldwide Google Outage Yesterday


The story: It wasn't just your Gmail account that was making you go crazy. On Friday, as many as 42 million users were disconnected from their Gmail accounts for up to an hour, causing a collective freak-out on the Internet. But it wasn't some rogue hacker or a major overthrow of the company's servers. No, it was just a simple software bug. 

"At 10:55 a.m. PST this morning, an internal system that generates configurations — essentially, information that tells other systems how to behave — encountered a software bug and generated an incorrect configuration," Google VP of Engineering Ben Traynor said on the company's official blog. "The incorrect configuration was sent to live services over the next 15 minutes, caused users' requests for their data to be ignored, and those services, in turn, generated errors."

The background: At the time, users experienced a (500) code problem, indicating a temporary problem, but the issue's cause was still entirely unclear. And because Google owns everything, services like Google+, Hangouts and YouTube comments were also affected (although we're guessing nobody was crying over not being able to check out what their six Google+ connections were up to).   

The glitch also caused some pretty weird things to happen. Because of the bug in the system, thousands of people were accidentally emailing David S. Peck when Gmail inadvertently and automatically filled into the recipients field. His Hotmail account subsequently recieved thousands of messages because of the glitch. 

Also, in possibly the greatest example of perfect timing ever, the engineers on Google's Site Reliability Team, or SRE, had just started a Reddit AMA on the site's performance. 

Takeaway: Though the problem proved to be relatively innocuous and Google apologized and promised to improve its response time for similar incidents in the future, the havoc the outage caused is somewhat alarming. If one company's service is down for just an hour and we're all freaking out that much, what does that say about our technology addiction? Many of us use Gmail and other Google products for work and business, but it's somewhat unnerving to think that such an outage could be this problematic. We're just lucky this was a minor bug and not something more malicious.