With Halloween over and done with for another year, it’s nearly time to to move on from thoughts of ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night. But not quite.
I have been running websites for over 15 years, and, in that time, I’ve had my share of hosting experiences, including the good, the bad and the outright scary.
So, in the spirit of the season, I’m going to recap five of my biggest horror stories with hosting. Though I’m not going to mention names of companies, it may give a warning on the types of things that you may want to look out for when dealing with your sites.
1. Blizzard Traps My Site; Cannibalism Ensues
When I got my first true hosting account in 1998, after years of hosting on free services, it got off to a very rough start. I received my first hosting contract as a Christmas present and set it up in the days after. My site was up for less than a day before it went down and stayed there.
It happened so fast that, at first, I thought it was a DNS issue. But, after calling support, I learned that the problem was much more physical: they had been hit with a blizzard and their entire datacenter was offline. The host was shut down and it remained so for two days.
It was the longest downtime I’ve had before and since, but it was just the beginning of my hosting horror stories.
2. Invasion of the Pod Hosting Snatcher
Once the blizzard situation resolved itself, I could not have been more thrilled with my first host. It was a small company, but proved to be reliable and reasonably priced, making it the perfect place for me to get started.
However, after just a year of hosting with them, the company was bought out by a much larger player in the field and things quickly started to fall apart.
Though I stuck through the initial, and very turbulent, transition period, the service and speed of the account got significantly worse. Support requests took hours to get an answer, the site was regularly down and was usually slow when it was up. Worst of all, the prices went up by nearly 50% for the same service. I was forced to bail and move to another company.
When I arrived, I felt like a refugee, but like any good horror movie, I wasn’t safe yet.
3. The Barricades Collapse Against the Zombie Horde
At the new host things went great. Though the price was slightly higher than I was used to, the service and speed were comparable and the uptime was almost unbeatable. I remained there for more than 4 years without doing anything more than paying my bill.
But in August 2005 I launched the site Plagiarism Today and, before too long, it began to get some serious attention. After a Slashdot effect took the site offline in 2006, I called the host and asked them what I could do to prevent the problem. They informed me that if i simply warned them, they could give me the resources I needed to survive.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t strictly true. A few months later I was hit with a Digg effect and, even though I had called my host to warn them about the imminent horde, they were unable to save my site. I went offline during another critical moment and that was enough to get me looking for a new host for that site.
4. The Case of the Phantom Traffic Spikes
After moving Plagiarism Today to a new host on a grid server setup, I was prepared for any traffic spikes and, for the most part, survive I did. Two more Digg effects and countless StumbleUpon swarms passed without as much as a blink.
But the host set up new rules on database usage that meant traffic spikes would move the site’s database to a different pool. If an account did that more than twice in one month, there would be an additional charge.
I didn’t think much of this since it was only supposed to come into affect during Digg effects or other traffic spikes and the odds of me getting more than 2 in a month were slim.
However, I began getting email notifications that my account was going into the pool. The problem was that I had no reason for that to happen as traffic was low and Googlebot (nor any other spider I could see) were not on the site. In short, things were dead.
When I asked for an explanation, they said that it sometimes happens and they couldn’t pinpoint why I was having this problem routinely. Two months in a row I was in a position where my pool time was used up by these phantom traffic spikes and I had nothing left for any real ones.
Once again, I was forced to move on, this time driven away by ghosts.
5. The Site Eraser
I decided to take the opportunity to step up to my first VPS hosting account and finally consolidate all of my various accounts for the first time in several years. However, my first experience didn’t go very well.
After less than a month with this new host, my site went down. I logged in to reboot the VPS but the reboot froze. Eventually I found out that the RAID controller on my physical machine had crashed and they were working to restore my site from backups. After waiting several hours to be restored, I found that their backups were not adequate and my home page was still nothing but an error.
Fortunately, I had a recent database backup and was able to simply point the DNS back to the old hosting account, getting me up in just a few additional hours (about 16 hours of total downtime).
Once I was up and running, I began the process of finding a different VPS host and eventually settled on Servint, where I am today.
The truth is that, even though these are all horror stories, outside of the fifth and possibly the fourth story, I believe all of the companies behind them were good hosts doing the best that they could.
This really isn’t meant to be a rant about had hosting companies, but rather, just an acknowledgment that hosting can be a very scary place at times and not much can change that. Much like with Halloween itself, the fear is largely in our heads and the reality is much brighter.