Having everything in Google's cloud is great — until it goes down

Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 4a (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Even when you buy the very best Android phone available, the real engine that powers it comes from Google's servers. And that fun new phone is significantly less fun when that server engine breaks down.

99.99 is a magic number to a network admin.

The goal of every server, regardless of the service being offered, is to have 99.99% uptime. That's not an easy feat, but it's a big factor in how both companies and regular people like us choose which services to use and which to pass on — nobody wants something they intend to use to be down all of the time. You've probably experienced something like PSN crashing or Spotify going down just when you were planning on using it and know the frustration all too well.

Server and service uptime is one place where Google does an incredible job. Google can make plenty of frustrating decisions (and often does) but for as many different services as it offers from many different data centers and using many different teams to manage them, the company actually gets very close to the magical 99.99% uptime goal. But when it rains, it often pours, as we've recently seen.

A whole lot of people and a whole lot of companies that use Google services weren't very happy when some or all of the things needed to get anything done weren't available on a Monday morning. Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, Calendar, and so on and so on just didn't work and if you tried to log in, you got the generic message telling you that your stuff wasn't available. To Google's credit, it was quickly fixed and the whole mess lasted just under an hour, but it felt like forever if you were trying to get something done.

Google Service Downtime

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

That Google services were down for 45 minutes, even on a Monday morning, isn't the real story, though. It's why they were all down: Google's authentication system had an outage. One component of Google's gigantic web services platform was able to bring the whole house down when it had a glitch.

Most Google services are tied to each other in multiple ways and when one thing breaks, it can cause a big mess.

This is an inherent problem that comes with sticking all of your eggs in one basket. Nothing is easier than using your Google account with all of Google's apps and services unless your Google account can't be verified and everything shuts down. I'm not kicking Google here — as mentioned, the company does have incredible uptime numbers — but this isn't the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last. It's also something that has happened to every company that offers web services a time or two and not just a Google thing.

Maybe the real problem is that not using one basket, whether it be Google's or Apple's or Microsoft's, to hold all your stuff means you don't get the convenience of something like Chrome remembering a password, knowing that all those photos you took last night are stored in Google Photos, or being able to yell "Hey Google, when is my doctor appointment?". This level of integration and convenience is a mega-fantastic selling point even for free services. It's also why so many people use what Google has to offer — it's free and it all magically works together.

There is nothing Google could do to fix the problem of one service being down affecting the rest. And there isn't really anything to fix here because we want Google to use a strong system of verification when it comes to being able to access our stuff across everything it offers. It's another matter of things being easy 99 times is worth 1 hard time to most of us.

I use a lot of different internet service companies, but I still use Google for most things because it is convenient.

Now that I've said all of this, I have to admit I'm kind of diversified. I mostly use Firefox Focus for web browsing on my phone because by the time I installed a browser that let me use extensions, it would look just like Firefox Focus. I stream music through my own server at home and use Tidal for streaming (this week — that seems to always change) away from home. I do use Gmail of course and have Nest products running my heating and cooling as well as my Wi-Fi network. All this already makes me kind of a mutt when it comes to my online pedigree.

I've even thought about trying to live a week or a month or insert some other random amount of time here without using any Google services to see what that's like. The only problem is that means I can't use my Chromebook unless I want to fill it up with Android apps to do all my stuff. But then I realize I'd need to use Google Play to do that and forget the idea. Even though I do use a handful of stuff that isn't from Google I still depend on it for almost everything else.

It was no fun not being able to check my mail on Monday morning. But it's something we all probably have to deal with every once in a while because of how easy it is to get deeply ingrained into a single company's products.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.