Many wouldn’t have noticed but on Wednesday, 7th of September, 2011, Google Docs was down, denying users access for around 30 minutes, till it was fixed. This may seem a very short downtime, but for Google Apps business users, it was a major setback. This disruption in service affected Google Docs List, Google Docs and Google Drawing. The search giant has only now released an official statement explaining the cause of the downtime to be a memory management bug in the servers.
All is well now
Here’s what Alan Warren, Engineering Director at Google had to say, “Every time a Google Doc is modified, a machine looks up the servers that need to be updated. Due to the memory management bug, the lookup machines didn’t recycle their memory properly after each lookup, causing them to eventually run out of memory and restart. While they restarted, their load was picked up by the remaining lookup machines – making them run out of memory even faster. This meant that eventually the servers couldn’t properly process a large fraction of the requests to access document lists, documents, drawings, and scripts which led to the outage you saw on Wednesday.” This memory bug was only evident under heavy usage which is why most people may not have noticed anything.
This incident has enabled Google to reduce the chances of future events from happening and decrease resolution times. This is not to say the system is perfect now, no system ever is. However, one can take precautions like syncing Google Docs with Dropbox or SugarSync, so your sensitive data is present at multiple places in the cloud.