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Another email lapse on AOL

One day after the online service announces it reached 10 million subscribers, its email system suffers another crash.

    A day after America Online (AOL) announced that it reached its 10 million member mark, the online giant suffered a brief network and email outage.

    AOL had to take down its system from 6 to 7 a.m. PT today after the email system crashed, spokesman Rich D'Amato said. Email remained down for a few hours, but the system appeared to be fully functional by 9:45 a.m.

    The crash was caused by a "hardware problem with an email server," D'Amato said, and was related to the email outages AOL experienced in the last month. (See related story)

    "What happened this morning is not unlike the problem that hit us at the end of October," he said. "We do understand what the problem is and are working with the vendor on a permanent fix that will be installed in two weeks."

    AOL would not reveal the name of the company that supplies its email servers.

    D'Amato said the fix will be an "operating-level solution" that will allow AOL to isolate and fix independent servers "without impacting other equipment."

    The email problem this morning, in and of itself, does not represent a major outage, especially compared to others that the online giant has had. But it comes at a time when AOL is on a huge drive to boost its membership.

    When AOL announced yesterday that it had reached its 10 million mark more than a month ahead of schedule, it emphasized its system's reliability. AOL earlier this year had to put its usually unrelenting membership drive efforts on temporary hold because its system was overtaxed to the extent that members had trouble getting online.

    After AOL switched from hourly to flat-rate service in December, its members took advantage of the deal by spending more time online and the system became so crowded that members trying to log on were shut out of the system, sometimes for hours at a time.

    Members sued, and attorneys general from several states got involved in the case. For obvious business reasons, as well as legal ones, AOL now must be very careful to keep its system from getting overcrowded.

    Toward that effort, AOL now rolls out its upgrades so that not all members are installing and downloading new software at once.

    Because of its former problems and because AOL now towers over its rivals in the size of its membership base, the online service is under constant legal and consumer scrutiny.