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Google Cloud issue blamed for UniSuper week-long service disruption

May 08, 20244 mins
Cloud ComputingData Center

A misconfiguration during provisioning triggered a previously unknown software bug, causing the deletion of UniSuper’s Private Cloud.

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An Australian pension fund provider has attributed a week-long service outage to “an unprecedented occurrence” related to provisioning by Google Cloud, its cloud service provider (CSP).

A disruption in UniSuper services that caused members to lose access to online access and mobile apps happened because of “a combination of rare issues at Google Cloud that resulted in an inadvertent misconfiguration during the provisioning of UniSuper’s Private Cloud,” according to an email from Google published in a blog post online by UniSuper.

UniSuper is a financial planning and retirement account provider serving Australia; the outage affected the Australian pension fund for the education and research sectors.

The issues triggered a previously unknown software bug that impacted UniSuper’s systems, causing a service outage that began about a week ago and which will only begin to be remediated starting Thursday, according to the post.

Account access to be restored

By mid-afternoon Australia time Thursday, members will be able to login to their accounts; however, account balances will not be updated yet, though investment and trading has continued as normal throughout the outage and people’s funds were not affected.

UniSuper’s CEO Peter Chun also sent an email to clients Wednesday that was posted online to assure them of the safety of their accounts and the continuity of investment activity during the outage. “This usual investment activity will be reflected in your balance once our systems are fully restored,” according to his email. “As investments have been unaffected by the outage, we have up-to-date investment options performance information on our website for members.”

Calling the problem “an isolated incident,” Google also assured UniSuper members that the outage was not due to a cyber-attack and thus their sensitive data was not exposed to unauthorized entities.

What happened?

The provisioning issue caused a deletion of UniSuper’s Private Cloud subscription, which deleted the cloud in two geographies, one of which was aimed at providing protection against outages and loss, according to Google.

“Restoring UniSuper’s Private Cloud instance has called for an incredible amount of focus, effort, and partnership between our teams to enable an extensive recovery of all the core systems,” according to the email.

UniSuper also had backups in place with an additional service provider, which minimized the loss and is helping the companies during the restoration process.

“Google Cloud sincerely apologizes for the inconvenience this has caused, and we continue to work around the clock with UniSuper to fully remediate the situation, with the goal of progressively restoring services as soon as possible,” the email said.

Outages can cause reputational damage

Cloud and other network outages happen, with the major service providers – including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and others – all having experienced them at one time or another. For instance, in June 2023, AWS experienced a more than two-hour incident that impacted a number of services on the US East Coast. Microsoft Azure also had a data center outage in Australia in September of last year that prevented users from accessing Azure, Microsoft 365, and Power Platform services for more than 24 hours.

Typically these issues are resolved somewhat quickly, with the UniSuper outage standing out as an exception in terms of its duration, noted Pareekh Jain, CEO of EEIRTrend and Pareekh Consulting. This could harm Google from a reputational standpoint and cause customers to have a lack of trust in the company as a CSP. “The current UniSuper cloud outage on Google Cloud in Australia is taking an unusually long time to resolve, which negatively impacts Google Cloud’s reputation in the region,” he noted.

Such outages also can lead to business disruptions and data loss for clients, which is why many favor a multi-cloud strategy for risk management, Jain added. UniSuper used to split its workloads between Azure and two data centers of its own, but moved a large amount of its workloads to Google Cloud Platform last year.