In the wake of service outages earlier this week, Google is making good on a commitment to increase transparency and communication with Google Apps customers.
On Wednesday, Google launched the Google Apps Status Dashboard. As its name suggests, the new tool lets customers check the status of services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Video for business.
"The Google Apps Status Dashboard represents an additional layer of transparency that we believe will be particularly useful for our business users, and it's also relevant to users of our consumer products," said Tessa Prescott of the Google Apps sales team. "The status dashboard is the best place to check for information on service availability for Google Apps anywhere in the world."
A Timely Launch
The launch of the dashboard is timely. Google received a one-two punch earlier this week when a data-center malfunction caused Gmail to go down for hours in conjunction with routine maintenance at a European site.
Google explained that Gmail accounts are typically served out of another data center during maintenance, but some coding issues caused an overload that cascaded from one data center to another for about an hour before Google engineers corrected the issue.
While Google was scrambling to fix the problem, attackers launched phishing campaigns in the Google Talk chat service. When users clicked a link to "check out" a video, they were sent to a site called ViddyHo and asked for their Gmail username and password. Users who anted up the information set off a chain reaction that sent a similar message to their online contacts. Google has blacklisted the site and blocked the link.
Does the Dashboard Matter?
With this week's drama behind it, Google appears to have moved quickly to make good on its promise of transparency. Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said the timing of the dashboard almost seems like a response to the Gmail problems. "Almost" is the key word. Google, he said, has likely been developing the tool for some time.
"Ultimately you want the apps to work. That's the bottom line," Sterling said. "A tool that tells you it's not working tells you something you already know on one level, but it also is an indicator that Google is aware of the problem and is addressing it. This will probably provide some comfort to people. It may also minimize some frustration."
An Indispensable Tool
Prescott is confident users will find the tool "indispensable" in managing Google Apps deployment. But he is also recommending several other tools to help account administrators get up and running quickly and stay on top of new functions. He pointed to the Google Apps Help Center where admins can answer questions, troubleshoot and find out the status of known issues.
Prescott also pointed to the Google Apps Help Forum, which is moderated by Google Apps Advisers and fueled by the knowledge of expert Power Posters. Google Apps update alerts offer summaries of launch improvements to any of the apps or new admin capabilities, even minor user interface tweaks. And the Google Apps Channel on YouTube offers product tutorials, overviews and recordings of Google Apps-related talks.