Recently, one of my main email providers experienced three outages in the same week. Luckily, one was from about 6 to 7:45 a.m., so it didn't affect too many people during normal business hours. But the other two outages affected users for four more hours each time.
About a decade ago, I observed that email had become more vital to people than the telephone.
Businesses rely on email for general communications, sending contracts, certificates and other time-sensitive information.
The expectation is that email will arrive in minutes.
So when email stops flowing, things get ugly.
Business can grind to a halt. Stories that were relayed to me included frustrated customers that felt people were ignoring them, interviews that were missed and deadlines weren't met.
The fact is that systems fail. Whether it be an organization, a person or a technology.
Some of us may remember when we had the huge power outage here in the Northeast a few years ago. That's a major system failure.
There are times that dams break or even someone forgets to file a needed document. All system failures.
We expect that systems in place won't fail. By and large, here in the United States, the systems we have work pretty well.
So when a system fails, we have to figure out what "Plan B" is.
But regarding email systems, all of the major providers have had systems outages: Google's Gmail, Yahoo!'s Mail and Microsoft. All provide both free and paid email and all have had major outages.
Having email in-house is also no guarantee of 100 percent up-time. Companies that host their own email still have outages, but also have the ability to create systems that put servers in different data centers and geographies that are customized to their needs and mitigate their risks. Typically you don't read in the press about in-house email systems going down.
Most of us would never think of hosting our own email system. It's too costly and too much work. And, if you have Internet service through a local provider such as AT&T or Cablevision, they include a handful of free email accounts.
So how do you deal with systems that eventually will go down? My suggestion is to have an alternative available. For example, if you're using Gmail as your primary account, also have a Yahoo! or Cablevision account that will let you at least notify colleagues and friends of the outage.
With alternate accounts, although your work may be delayed, at least you will be available and can continue to function if even at a reduced level of activity.
Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 18 May 2011.