What happens when Google fails?

I had an eye-opening experience tonight. Google isn’t responding on port 80 (basically to Web requests) from any of its core sites, include search, news, maps, and ads. This is pretty bad by itself; I’d guess over half my browsing is to those sites. Even worse is the effect on the rest of the Web, most of which has some Google content on it. When Google goes down, those sites become almost impossible to reach as well because their pages bog down with broken requests.

For instance, I went looking for information about a new local restaurant tonight. My first stop was Google Local, of course, but that wasn’t responding. Google search (to find the restaurant’s own site or Web reviews) was the logical next step, but that was out as well. I went to Yahoo (which responded instantly), but the restaurant was new enough to be missing from their local listings as well as much of the search index. My next thought was to check Yelp, but that was killed because of their reliance on Google maps. Next stop was the San Diego Reader, which came up only after I forced it to ignore the Google ads. Even my own work uses enough Google content on it to make the site difficult to reach right now.

So yeah. What’s up with Google? Normally I’d check the news for a mention of outages or issues, but that would be Google News. RSS reader? Google, of course. Blog search? Technorati actually works, but there’s no mention of a problem. It can’t just be me; I double-checked using other computers around San Diego. I don’t have access to anything outside of the area, but it seems strange that anything outside Google itself could block port 80 for only Google sites.

So what is up with Google? And should I start stocking up supplies?

UPDATE: So almost the exact moment I posted this, all Google sites came back for me. Still, the question remains: do we rely on Google’s stability far more than is actually justified?

One thought on “What happens when Google fails?

  1. It’s very alarming how much we’ve come to depend on Google and, in general, how many hosted services we rely on. Google has become a sort of central core for the network, a single point of failure. The network isn’t supposed to work that way, but that’s what it’s become.

    People keep tying more and more network functionality into their non-networked products. How long will it be until iTunes on my Mac (or PC) won’t play even my local music if it can’t get to phobos.apple.com? When livejournal goes down, do most OpenID users lose the ability to log into *anything*? Taking out an Active Directory server will incapacitate a Windows-dependent corporation.

    I’ve thought about the pros and cons of hosted solutions before, but mostly in the context of data ownership, retention, and use. Second to that I’ve considered the perceived value of presenting your own data vs someone else presenting it for you. (These issues came up at work, of course). But I haven’t really thought about the ramifications of loss of service. It seemed impossible that Google, all of Google, would go down; but that is exactly what you describe. It’s a bit scary how vulnerable and dependent we’re becoming.

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