Why did Google go down? It ran out of storage

Google had said that it ran out of storage on Monday evening and that caused all its services to go offline.

UPDATED: December 15, 2020 | 12:46 IST

Google suffered a global outage on Monday evening, causing inconvenience to people who use services such as Gmail, YouTube, Drive among others. The sudden disruption baffled most people, including Google that took some time to figure out what went wrong with its several services. Finally, Google has an answer. Google says the outage was caused by an “internal storage quota issue”, which is not as simple as it sounds.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson told India Today Tech that its services experience what is an “authentication system outage” for about 45 minutes due to the said internal storage quota issue. To simplify this, the Google spokesperson explained, the internal tools that the company uses to allocate sufficient storage to each service that handles authentication did not work as expected. After the storage limit was exhausted, the system failed to automatically make more storage available, causing the system to crash.

Think of it like the situation when the hard disk drive on your computer runs out of storage and suddenly everything that is running on your system begins to crash. All devices and services need storage to operate but in an event where there is none available, the system simply stops working. Most Google services rely on authentication before a user enters Google servers and when the storage indicator tool did not acquire more space authentication tools stopped working.

A large number of services that Google offers, such as Gmail, YouTube, Drive, and Calendar, stopped working instantly. Not just Google’s own services, the third-party services that use Google’s authentication platform stopped working for users who were trying to log in. However, people who were already logged in were not affected.

Google go down

Now, if you followed everything that caused the outage, you might have seen solutions some people managed to figure out. One of the solutions was accessing YouTube and some other services in the incognito mode of the browser. Multiple users said they were able to log into Google services using the incognito window. Google’s storage quota issue explains this solution.

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So when people tried accessing YouTube inside the private window, they were seeing the signed-out version of the video streaming platform. A signed-out version of a website does not need authentication, which is why it continued to work when Google’s authentication platform stopped functioning. However, services such as Gmail that necessarily need you to sign in to access content could not work even inside the incognito mode of different browsers.

The outage impacted smart devices that need Google Assistant to work. For instance, Nest speakers, smart lights, smart light switches, and security cameras went kaput for a brief time. The impact was so intense that people had to sit in the dark because the internet-connected services stopped working. Joe Brown has said on Twitter that he had to sit in the dark in his toddler’s room because the Google Home-controlled lights in the entire house stopped working.

Google Home is the first-generation smart speaker that is controlled by voice and the help of Google Assistant. The speaker necessarily allows you to control things such as smart lights, smart fans, security cameras, and other internet-connected devices with Google Assistant, which was one of the services that stopped working for some time during the outage today. Since Assistant is the core service controlling smart devices, the outage impacted smart lights at Brown’s home.

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