Multiple consumer-facing Google services including Maps, Gmail and YouTube went offline for about half an hour in the early hours of this morning due to a “software update glitch,” according to the search giant.
The outage followed an explosion at a US Google data centre hours earlier, in which three workers were hospitalised, although the two incidents appear to be unrelated.
The first reports of an outage affecting Google’s search service started at about 02:12 BST with tens of thousands of people around the world reporting the issues on Downdetector.com. Users were presented with an error page reading: “The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request. Please try again in 30 seconds.”
There were also reports of issues with Google Drive and Images.
A Google spokesperson confirmed that the outage was the result of a software update issue earlier in the afternoon that “briefly affected availability of Google search and Maps”, but said engineers worked quickly to address the issue and bring services back online.
In total services were unavailable for just over 30 minutes. According to Cisco-owned network intelligence company ThousandEyes, the outages affected more than 1,338 servers in more than 40 countries including the US, Australia, UK and China.
Google data centre explosion in Iowa
Soon after the outage there was speculation it may have been linked to an explosion at a Google data centre in Iowa that put three electricians in the hospital with burns and other injuries. The cause of the explosion hasn’t been revealed but Google confirmed it was linked to an electrical incident and that it had launched an investigation.
Local reports suggest the incident happened around midday local time while electricians were working on a substation close to the data centre buildings, with all three suffering significant burns.
A Google spokesperson acknowledged the incident and told SFGate: “The health and safety of all workers is our absolute top priority, and we are working closely with partners and local authorities to thoroughly investigate the situation and provide assistance as needed.”
Google has a total of 14 data centres in the US that keep its products and services up and running with the Iowa site one of its largest, first opened in 2009. It is one of 23 around the world. The search giant didn’t make any link between the incident and the global outages of Google services.
Google outage ‘brief but concerning’
Outages at Google are rare but not impossible. The last major outage was in 2020 when a lack of capacity in the Google authentication systems left thousands of users unable to access Gmail, Google Drive and Docs and others unable to use Google search.
Earlier this month, Google suffered a brief outage as a result of record 40.3ºC temperatures in London. At 6pm UK time, Google posted on its Cloud Health Service that there had been an incident with one of its data centre buildings in host zone “Europe-West2-a” that had started at 4:10pm.
According to the incident log, the building had experienced a “cooling-related failure” which had caused a partial failure of capacity. This led to virtual machine terminations and a loss of machines for a “small set of our customers.”
While today’s outage was only brief “it was concerning”, wrote Paul Haskell-Dowland, professor of cybersecurity practice at Edith Cowan University, in an article for The Conversation.
Google’s “brief disappearance from the internet felt, for many, like an almost-apocalyptic moment – underscoring how deeply ‘Googling’ has been integrated into our lives,” he wrote. “Although any outage at Google becomes major news around the world, today’s incident was short-lived – as were all previous cases.
“Google certainly has the capacity and capability to act swiftly to resolve service problems when they do occur.”
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