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Critical Path slowdown hits customers

The email host keeps potentially tens of thousands of customers waiting to receive email today, the latest in a monthlong series of service delays.

Critical Path kept potentially tens of thousands of customers waiting to receive email today, a slowdown that may have been the latest in a monthlong series of service delays.

Company executives said the slowdown stemmed from a sharp increase in email traffic, which caused configuration problems and storage overloads beginning around 10:45 a.m. PT. About 1.2 million of the 6.7 million mailboxes the company services were affected, said Diana Whitehead, vice president of customer service.

"Basically, we have experienced two sets of problems and they are independent of each other," Whitehead said. "We are working to correct the problem this evening."

"There has been random slowdowns," Judie Hayes, Critical Path's vice president of communications, said of the day's trouble.

But sources close to the company's operations said that Critical Path, which provides email services for such firms as US West, Sprint and E*Trade, has been delivering sporadic service for more than a month. The problems have ranged from slowdowns to complete outages, including one for an entire business day, the source said.

Regular problems are more serious, of course, since email has become such an integral part of most corporate offices. Companies like Critical Path pitch their services partly on the basis of freeing clients from maintenance and storage.

Whitehead denied that the company has ever experienced outages. But she acknowledged that the company's system can only track emails that are sent and has no way of knowing if emails reach their intended destinations. She also confirmed Critical Path has received reports that some customers have suffered daylong outages.

In the last six months, Critical Path has seen two major setbacks. The company acknowledged in September that a security hole was found in its email systems, which allowed access to a user's account without requiring a password.

In May, an equipment failure caused many customers to go without email for at least a day. In that case, Critical Path executives said one of its three core mail storage devices failed.