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Data glitch detours traffic to Asia, disrupts services

Google said errors in its data network caused some users to experience slowdowns or interruptions in service. The errors were fixed by last night. Google said errors in its data network caused some users to experience slowdowns or interruptions in service. The errors were fixed by last night. (Tony Avelar/Bloomberg News)
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / May 15, 2009
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No, it wasn't your imagination. For at least an hour yesterday, thousands of people nationwide found it difficult or impossible to access various websites operated by Internet search giant Google Inc.

By mid-afternoon, Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., posted a statement on its blog that blamed the problems on configuration errors in its data network. "An error in one of our systems caused us to direct some of our web traffic through Asia, which created a traffic jam," wrote Urs Hoelzle, senior vice president of operations. "As a result, about 14 percent of our users experienced slow services or even interruptions."

Google did not immediately provide more details. Website postings from users described problems getting access to Google's flagship search service, its Gmail electronic mail system, and Google-owned video service YouTube.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.com, a website that tracks Internet search services, said the brief outage shouldn't pose any long-term problems for Google or its users.

"They don't have a history of these kinds of problems constantly coming up," Sullivan said.

But he added that the incident could serve as a warning to Internet users who have come to depend on Google for "cloud computing" services, which allow users to keep their e-mail and documents online, rather than on their own machines.

"It's going to cause some people to question, 'Should I be using some of these cloud-based applications?' " Sullivan said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.