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Excite Mail downed by hardware upgrade

Excite's free email system has been suffering from outages and slowdowns for at least the past week.

Excite's free email system, Excite Mail, has been suffering from "intermittent" outages and network slowdowns for the past week, hindering many subscribers from accessing their email accounts, the company confirmed today.

An Excite spokeswoman said the disruptions and a general slowdown are the result of "capacity" problems, as opposed to the "scalability" bug previously cited by the company. The outage in fact was caused by a surge in traffic that forced the company to add more hardware to its email service, according to the spokeswoman.

Excite revamped its free email service this fall. Increased usage began after the portal site licensed technology from Software.com, according to the spokeswoman, who would not say what specifically caused the surge in volume.

Excite said the problems occurring in the system were not related to its switch to Software.com technology. Rather, the problems resulted from in-house hardware issues that caused Excite Mail engineers to shut down and add more capacity, the spokeswoman said.

Previously, WhoWhere managed Excite's free email service, but the Redwood City, California, company dropped it after WhoWhere was acquired by rival Lycos. Excite executives claim to have switched email providers because they wanted to host their email service themselves. But switching providers was not as easy as Excite and Software.com had anticipated.

"The transition wasn't as smooth as we would have liked it to be," said Software.com president Valdur Koha.

"The size of the data was bigger than anybody anticipated," he added, referring to the files that were transferred to Excite's new system. "The transition from a service provider to an in-house organization is always complicated."

Koha added that the transition complications, when added to the high percentage of email usage, ultimately caused the system to flicker.

"We were scaling to be able to handle all the traffic we've seen since we brought [Excite Mail] in service a month ago," the spokeswoman said. "In order to counteract [the slowdowns], we've increased capacity already."

Only a "small number" of subscribers have been affected, the spokesperson said. Excite would not say whether subscribers have been affected according to geography or time of day accessing the service.

Users who have been affected are venting on the Internet's message boards.

"Basically, they've had software and hardware problems that were not anticipated in the new mail," one user wrote. "If [Excite Mail] were a car we'd all be dead right now."