FORTUNE -- Is it unacceptable for your e-mail to be inaccessible for one minute? How about 40? What about an hour? Forty hours?
That's about the time that Yahoo expects some of its Mail customers to be without access to the service after a hardware problem in one of the company's data centers flared this week. In a note published this afternoon, Yahoo communications chief Jeff Bonforte explained that the problem first appeared on Monday at 10:27 p.m. PT and has, at the time of this writing, yet to be resolved.
"The issue has been harder to fix than we originally expected," he wrote. "We have dozens of people working around the clock to bring it to a resolution." Chief executive Marissa Mayer quickly republished the note on her personal Twitter and Tumblr pages.
Short of a major data breach, an Internet company's greatest fear is that its product will go down. Offline, the company cannot gain new customers, or monetize existing ones. Its public image is temporarily dented; its profits, permanently. (Yahoo does not break out revenue figures for its Mail product, though it reported more than $900 million in display and search advertising revenues for its most recent quarter.)
The Silicon Valley company did not divulge how many users were experiencing the outage. But with more than 275 million users in the database, a disruption for just 0.1 percent of them still impacts 275,000 people, more than the population of Orlando, Florida. (Imagine unexpectedly closing down Walt Disney World for two days and see how well that goes over.)
An outage measured in seconds is undetectable to most. Measured in minutes, it is annoying. In hours, it becomes frustrating. In days -- as Yahoo Mail is now experiencing -- simply embarrassing. On top of that, Mail is among the products that Mayer ordered to be revamped in October as part of her company turnaround effort; though the outage has nothing to do with that effort, it works to erode any goodwill produced by it.
There is a phrase in information technology called "five nines," referring to 99.999% uptime, or about 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Some have called it the "holy grail" of service availability; others have have called it only a myth. (It is not.) The term's prominent usage by service providers in recent years underscores a perceived need for extreme availability in a cloud-based world. So does the rash of news headlines whenever Google's Gmail, Twitter, Microsoft's Outlook.com or any similar service goes down. In a increasingly connected world, we recoil ever more strongly from disconnection.
No one in the business of keeping online services online wants to acknowledge that there is a degree of acceptable downtime, just as retailers would never admit that a minimal amount of unhappy customers is to be expected. Yet as technology industry consultant Phil Simon pointed out in April, when services like these stop working, "it only underscores the fact that they are working the vast majority of the time."
If Microsoft ends up giving away its mobile operating systems, it will be playing catch-up with Google's dominant Android OS.
FORTUNE -- Microsoft (MSFT) is reportedly considering a radical shift in its mobile strategy: offering its operating systems free to manufacturers of mobile devices.
The Verge, quoting unnamed sources "familiar with Microsoft's plans" reported Wednesday that the company might trade in the revenues it gets from licensing Windows Phone and Windows RT by MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Dec 11, 2013 3:26 PM ET
The NBA unveiled a new statistics and video page so detailed that it will only interest hardcore fans. So, why invest in such flashy tech? Because it's the future.
FORTUNE -- Just before Thanksgiving, executives from the enterprise technology company SAP (SAP) and the National Basketball Association stood in a suite at Madison Square Garden and excitedly told members of the media about the league's new technology offering for fans.
The product MOREDaniel Roberts - Dec 11, 2013 12:35 PM ET
Viral hit app QuizUp wasn't always flying so high. Two years ago, its founder was nearly bankrupt.
By Eli Epstein
FORTUNE -- For Icelandic game studio Plain Vanilla, the last few months have been anything but boring.
The studio launched its smash iPhone trivia hit QuizUp on November 7, and quickly attracted 3.5 million registered users. Since that launch, QuizUp has bobbed in and out of the No. 1 spot in the MOREDec 11, 2013 9:15 AM ET
A sampling of the "cons" in 717 Apple employee reviews.
FORTUNE -- "All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Leo Tolstoy.
Apple (AAPL) is still one of the best places to work in America, according to Glassdoor's 2014 survey. But it dropped another spot in the report released Tuesday. There are now 34 U.S. companies -- and 15 tech companies -- rated higher by MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 11, 2013 7:28 AM ET
Andy Serwer took a break from his day job as managing editor of Fortune to profile San Francisco mayor Ed Lee for Bowdoin Magazine, the alumni publication of both Serwer and Lee's alma mater, Bowdoin College. (Serwer is class of 1981, Lee class of 1974). The following is the entirety of the story from Bowdoin Magazine's Fall 2013 issue.
Fortune writer (and fellow Bowdoin graduate) Beth Kowitt wrote about sibling entrepreneurs MOREDec 11, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Beth Kowitt took a break from her day job as a writer at Fortune to profile Arlyn and Eric Davich, siblings who both work in the New York City startup scene, for Bowdoin Magazine, Bowdoin College's alumni publication. The Davich siblings and Kowitt are all graduates of the Brunswick, Maine-based liberal arts school. The following is the entirety of the story from Bowdoin Magazine's Fall 2013 issue.
Fortune managing editor (and MOREBeth Kowitt, Writer-Reporter - Dec 11, 2013 5:00 AM ET
As the world prepares for Microsoft to announce a new chief executive, we ask the company's top executives -- including the man himself -- to take a look at the legacy Steve Ballmer leaves on the technology company.
By Mary Jo Foley, special to Fortune
FORTUNE -- On the eve of his exit as chief executive officer of Microsoft, after more then a decade on the job, it is more evident MOREDec 11, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Asymco's Horace Dediu now expects U.S. smartphone penetration to hit 90% by Dec. 2016.
FORTUNE -- I don't pretend to understand -- even after reading the Wikipedia entry on logistic regression -- the statistics Asymco's Horace Dediu used to draw the chart at right.
But even I can see that the curves representing various smartphone platforms have different shapes:
Orange: Research in Motion (BBRY), headed south
Blue: Microsoft (MSFT), recovering
Yellow: Android (GOOG), leveling off
Snapchat will get bigger, Twitter rants will grow louder, and your boss will learn to Tweet.Dec 10, 2013 12:44 PM ET
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