OOO No! Was Gmail Brought Down by Overworked Vacation Seekers?
Google suffered not one, but two outages this week, with its Gmail (among other Google services) going dark for several hours at a time. Many Gmail users reported emails bouncing back and other error messages. At their peak, these outages affected a vast number of users, many of whom seemed to be in Europe. The cause of the outages is, as of yet, undetermined, but your intrepid Tech Essentials staff has a theory…
I don’t need to tell you that 2020 turned the office work environment completely on its head. For those knowledge workers lucky enough to be able to work from home during the pandemic, a large proportion opted to defer their time off, as there was very little to do and nowhere to go outside the home with various lockdowns and health advisories in place. Plus, many had to balance remote learning for their children during the school year with their regular work responsibilities, so it’s safe to say that a huge proportion of people let their PTO accumulate through the year. There was also, no doubt, a kind of wait-and-see approach with vacation time this year, especially in the early months where many hoped for a quick resolution to the pandemic that would, unfortunately, never come.
So now you have a workforce that has accumulated an unknowable amount of unused vacation days. Add this to the fact that many states/countries have use-it-or-lose-it policies with employee vacation days, and you have a massive outlay of paid time off happening during December–right before the holidays. And what do office workers do when they have time off? They set up their OOO (aka “out of office”) automatic email responses—never mind that hardly anyone is on the office anymore. Everyone knows these messages: “I will be out of the office from X to Y on holiday, so please leave me alone and contact my assistant who is probably also on holiday, but I’m not really going to check because I have packing to do now.”
Now imagine a volume of these notices being sent/received at an unprecedented volume. So many (perhaps hundreds of millions of people) set these OOO auto-responders, which then created who-knows-how-many bounce back autoreply emails for every email they received from every sender, that we speculate this all contributed to the Gmail outages. Well, this is only our speculation. We will probably never know the true cause. We further speculate that many of these OOO emails are “fake” OOO’s, as most of these people are still on their computers confined to their (home) office doing holiday shopping and dreaming of their real vacations coming soon, hopefully.
You may be wondering now: “if such an outage could occur at Google with their Gmail product, could my precious RMail go down too—stranding all my important secure and consequential messages needing to be tracked and/or encrypted (right before I set my own OOOs for the holidays)?” The short answer is, no, this will not happen because RMail and RSign deployed some fancy AI to be able to interpret and account for this increase in email OOO volume without impacting our service operations. So now you can rest assured and enjoy your staycation with that much more peace-of-mind.
This truly has been a strange year. Some futurist-types are speculating that, years from now, historians will refer to this time as the new roaring ‘20’s–a decade of enhanced jubilant human interaction everywhere, which followed a turn-of-the-decade strange blip (the last 9 months) of suppressed human movement. Perhaps 2021 will release a wave of never-seen-before demand for social connection?
Please enjoy your real holiday OOO, and take our cue: think positively and think of the coolness of being able to look back in 10 years, knowing you were part of the (soon-to-be) roaring ‘20’s.
Happy Holidays from the Tech Essentials editorial team.