For the most part, you send an email, the email is received by the recipient almost immediately. But have you ever been expecting an email and it seems to take forever to receive it? Is your email slow? Have you ever sent an email and immediately called the recipient only to find out they haven’t received it yet? Isn’t email supposed to be instantaneous?

In short, no.

Email is not instant messaging, where you receive the message the moment it was sent. Consider for a moment how much email is being sent in a given day. Statistics and extrapolations by the Radicati Group from April 2010 estimate the number of emails sent per day to be around 294 billion. This equates to more than 2.8 million emails sent every second. Unfortunately, around 90% of these messages are either spam or virus-related.

Email messages bounce from server, to server, to server across cyberspace until the message gets to your inbox. In reality, your email could travel between 8 or more different servers before reaching the actual recipient.

Imagine the “web-like” structure of the Internet. An email begins its journey along the web until it comes across a server. If it is not the right server, it will redirect that email back into the web until it hits another server and so on. Each server acts as a traffic guard moving the email along to its final destination. As a result of this process, there are lots of chances that things can get messed up. Servers must communicate properly with each other to make this process work. Any miscommunication between servers; any malfunction with a server, be it hardware or software-related, can stall the movement of the email message.

So now that we know how email works, it is easy to see that there are several points in the process that can interrupt the smooth and rapid flow of email messaging. Generally, this process may only take seconds. But, given that there can be an interruption anywhere along the route, some delays can occur.

If you consider how may email messages are sent daily, how many servers there are in cyberspace, and how many potential glitches can occur, it’s amazing that any emails actually get from sender to recipient! But they do and generally, pretty quickly.