/ Technology

Has Gmail’s blunder left you doubting webmail?

Laptops floating in clouds

Google admitted earlier this week that it had lost thousands of Gmail accounts. Gmail users found their inboxes wiped clean and though emails have now been restored, have you lost confidence in cloud computing?

I’m largely unaffected by Google’s data loss, since my main account’s with Windows Live Hotmail, but thousands still lost their emails to Google’s ‘cloud’.

What’s a ‘cloud’? Well cloud computing quite simply refers to services not stored on your local computer but on a remote server – essentially a large computer – in this case one owned and managed by Google.

Benefits of cloud-based email services

There are countless benefits to cloud computing, which is widely-touted as one of the ‘next big things’ in computing.

In the case of webmail accounts like Gmail and Hotmail, it means you can pick up your emails from a computer anywhere in the world using any old web browser.

Webmail accounts offer generous storage capacities too, from 5GB to ‘unlimited’ of space for the main services. Plus, since emails aren’t stored on your hard disk, you won’t use up your computer’s valuable storage space.

These accounts also come with virus scanners and email filters, meaning you should be able to feel secure about your emails, too. You should be able to.

Loss of trust as Gmail Gfails

Gmail’s data loss highlights the fact that what really underpins cloud computing is trust. I’ve put my faith in Hotmail to keep my countless emails safe and make them available to me 24/7 whenever and wherever I choose to log in.

As well as emails from friends and family, my account stores treasured photographs, the addresses of people with whom I’d hate to lose touch, receipts for purchases I’ve made online, and more. Were I to lose them I’d be devastated.

Thankfully Google has now been able to restore everyone’s email accounts, but it’s worrying that one of the world’s biggest webmail providers almost fell at the same hurdle as everyone else – back up your computer!


Well no data has been lost – as you say the accounts have largely been reinstated by now – could the same be said if your hard drive had failed at home – far too many people still don’t have adequate backups. Add in that Software as a Service (SaaS) downtime is probably now lower than many systems maintained locally and this is a bit of a non-story (after all you say in the last sentence that you should have backups – Google did and restored the data) – Maybe the Vodafone issue deserves wider reporting – surely they should have had more contingency for a datacentre being taken out?

Also I hate to be pedantic but this sentence is kinda incorrect…

“What’s a ‘cloud’? Well cloud computing quite simply refers to services not stored on your local computer but on a remote server – essentially a large computer – in this case one owned and managed by Google.”

What you are describing is Software as a Service – cloud computing is more of structural difference in the server architecture – rather than having specific dedicated servers there is a pool of computing power available to be used – It just so happens that Gmail is Software as a service that uses cloud computing to provide that service – The differentiation is becoming more important as both the terms come into common use.

Mike Minh says:
1 March 2011

Lombear’s distinction between cloud and SaaS is a bit academic/geekish. More relevant to this case: It took Google three (or was it four) days to restore. Due to the consumerisation of IT so many small businesses fell for Googlemail, quite some had a bit of a wake up call.
How does one complain to a service which is not paid for? As the old saying goes: Free services are worth every penny.

Mark says:
1 March 2011

They sorted it out within days, so no, this hasn’t affected my confidence in Google. If anything, it’s proven that they have the ability to fix things when they go wrong. Surely a good thing, right?

I have not had much time for webmail since I used to get lots of spam from Hotmail users.

For years I have filtered mail from Hotmail, Yahoo, etc in the bin so that I can deal with important email more quickly. Thus I treat webmail as second class mail. When I do look through the mail that I have filtered out, most of it is junk so it does not matter if I let it accumulate for a week.

Chris says:
3 March 2011

You might want to try gmail – the email i get is “real” as the crowd culls out the spam for me, and i occasionally flag spam myself. Neat system. Ive not lost faith in web based mail. Its a great service & how can you complain at free ? I’ve had way more problems with a corporate email account over the years but i stil use outlook for work

Thanks. I’ve heard other positive comments about how gmail handles spam. Another advantage of gmail is the generous allocation.

At the moment most of my email is via my employer’s email system using Outlook. That is the account that gets all the spam. I’m sure that I get a load of spam because my employer has my email address on their website, where it can be harvested and sold to the spammers. My colleagues have the same problem with spam.

I do have a private email account provided by my ISP, which I also run using Entourage. I get virtually no spam on this account.

All restored

Storm in a teacup

ie a non-event. Yawn………………………

HV says:
8 May 2011

Currently, I’m not so worried about mail being lost as about the creeping loss of privacy with webmail.
Yahoo are asking users of their email service to sign up to new Terms and Conditions which allow for even more scanning of email content. Is this something that Which? might look into?