Slack outage causes disruption, but highlights importance of team chat

As cloud services become ubiquitous in the workplace, expectations for uptime rise.

#slack signage
Scott Webb (CC0)

Slack users were unable to access the team chat tool for several hours on Wednesday, after “connectivity issues” knocked the app offline.

Although service resumed later that day, it caused a disruption for users who rely on the application for communication and collaboration within the workplace. Problems were reported by users in the U.S. and the U.K., with many venting frustrations on Twitter.

Keaton Fox from Houston tweeted, “breaking: as Slack outage continues, thousands of workers are forced to actually speak to others in the office.” In Palo Alto, Calif., Chris Mutchler chimed in, “Slack is down. How is that ChatOps strategy working for you now?”

Slack has 8 million daily active users, according to the company’s latest stats, including 3 million paid customers.

“For individuals and organizations using team collaboration tools such as Slack, real-time communications have become ubiquitous and second nature to their work,” said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research. High expectations for service availability, he added, mean that every downtime incident will be perceived as a “serious disruption.”

“On the positive side, this signals that Slack has been successful in permeating the enterprise, and team collaboration tools are rapidly becoming a core productivity tool, alongside email and calendar,” he said.

Slack did not provide Computerworld with further details of the cause of the outage, or the number of users affected. A spokesperson said: “On June 27th between 6:33am and 9:49am PT Slack experienced an outage where people could not connect to their workspace. We worked as quickly as possible to bring Slack back to normal for everyone, and we are continuing to investigate the cause of this issue. We’re deeply sorry for the disruption. Please see the Slack Status page for the latest information”

Slack users have experienced problems on five days during 2018, according to the company’s status calendar

Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC, said that Slack, like other vendors, is working to ensure availability meets the levels demanded by users. “We’ve reached the point where 99.8% uptime isn’t good enough for us anymore — and cloud services and the vendors ‘behind the scenes’ [infrastructure-as-a-service cloud providers] — have noticed that and are taking action to meet our rising expectations,” Kurtzman said.

In order to improve its response to outages, Slack has been building out its safety engineering team, according to Reuters, and will use a method known as “chaos engineering” to test its systems by simulating failures on its infrastructure.

As the “pioneer” in the team collaboration market, said Castañón-Martínez, Slack faces more scrutiny than its rivals, despite providing users with more information about availability of its services.

“Unlike their competition, they have a policy of transparency and are very open about security or downtime incidents,” he said. Their competitors’ lack of transparency means that it is only possible to compare Slack’s performance with Atlassian, the provider of HipChat and Stride, which also provides data on availability. “This in itself should give IT decision makers more confidence in how these two companies conduct their business, and in their capacity to address security and reliability issues.”

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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