Google Outage Affects Offices, Homes Worldwide

Google’s systems experienced a rare outage on Monday that caused service interruptions across its systems worldwide.

The issue, which began at about 11:50 a.m. GMT, affected business products such as Google Suite as well as the company’s smart home offerings, leaving users unable to switch lights on or off, view security camera footage or control their home thermostats.

The issue only affected services that require a user to sign into an account.

Google’s search engine was unaffected, and YouTube experienced issues for users who were already signed in, but could be viewed in a browser’s “private mode”, which doesn’t attempt to automatically sign into a user’s accounts.

Google

Authentication failure

The company’s automated dashboard didn’t register any problems for the first 30 minutes or so after the outage began, but at 12:25 p.m. the site displayed a message acknowledging a “problem… affecting a majority of users”.

Google said the issue was caused by a failure in its systems that handle user authentication.

A mechanism that should have allocated more storage to the authentication system failed to do so, leading the storage to fill up and causing the system to crash.

“Today, at 3:47 a.m. PT, Google experienced an authentication system outage for approximately 45 minutes due to an internal storage quota issue,” Google said in a statement.

“Services requiring users to log in experienced high error rates during this period.

The authentication system issue was resolved at 4:32 a.m. PT. All services are now restored.

We apologise to everyone affected, and we will conduct a thorough follow-up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future.”

Smart infrastructure

The crash highlighted the wide array of services, both in the office and in homes, that rely on Google’s infrastructure.

In offices, the failure of Google Suite affected not only Gmail, but also intra-office messaging, as well as office documents and presentations using Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

Third-party services using Google authentication continued to function if users were already signed in, but failed if users signed in or out.

Home devices such as Nest thermostats and smoke alarms continued to work in fail-safe mode, but users were unable to interact with them via the Google Home mobile app.

Home devices such as smart speakers, televisions and voice-activated lighting could not be accessed, meaning users could not turn their lights on or off or change the temperature in their homes.

Lights out

People who use Google’s Nest indoor cameras as baby monitors found that the devices abruptly stopped working, while Google’s Classroom service also failed, leading to disruption in some schools reliant on distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People are sat in the dark unable to turn on their lights controlled by Google Home, my last two meetings have been unable to use the planned slides as they are stored in Google Slides,” said Adam Leon Smith, a fellow of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

“Our dependency on technology has grown so much, but the amount spent on reliability, testing and quality hasn’t grown in parallel.

“Many companies will be reviewing their (agreements) with Google today and realising their business is dependent on a stack completely outside of their control.”

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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