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Gmail outage explained: Why you should still trust Google

Google has explained why its email service dropped offline around the globe, and we explain why it's still safe to trust the search behemoth and store essential data in its cloud

Following the outage outrage Google witnessed from its customers when its Gmail service plummeted offline for two hours yesterday, El Goog has offered up an official explanation: its European data centre overloaded following routine maintenance.

Acacio Cruz, Gmail site reliability manager, said in an official blog posting, "Unexpected side effects of some new code that tries to keep data geographically close to its owner caused another data centre in Europe to become overloaded, and that caused cascading problems from one data centre to another."

In other words, it was the international data centre equivalent of the domino effect -- big fat dominoes that make people question whether Google, which in recent weeks accidentally blacklisted the entire Internet and marked personal emails as spam, is the hot shiznit it used to be?

The cloud: Should your data be in it?

In a word: yes. In several words: yes, of course it should. In Klingon: hija.

'The Cloud' is just a term to mean 'stored remotely', and almost everyone's email is stored remotely -- your Outlook email may be stored locally on your hard drive as well, but it's stored centrally in your office's cloud, and your ISP stores your email in its cloud until you pull it to your hard drive.

Obviously there are differences with Web mail, because it's solely stored in the cloud, so if your single entry point to this data is severed or blocked, you're up Dawson's creek without a paddle. But this is your own fault -- if it's that important, have a backup option.

Any service can go offline -- your company's Exchange server, your ISP's email, even your ISP itself. It's just part of using the Internet. And you could make the entirely opposite argument if your hard drive crashed: "Should I trust offline email, or would I be better off storing it in the cloud for access via any computer or networked device?"

Giving yourself only one way to send and receive email is just asking for trouble. If you like Web-based email, use one that grants you IMAP access as well -- like Google does, and this worked fine during yesterday's outage, incidentally -- and keep your email backed up on your computer using a desktop email application such as Outlook or Entourage.

If you only use offline applications like Outlook, give yourself a Web-based backup option -- Outlook Web Access or a Web-based service such as Gmail or Hotmail.