Beware: Even in cyberspace, what goes up, occasionally comes down.
What’s that? Gravity in cyberspace?
That’s right. Many entrepreneurs in cyberspace are quickly re-learning Newton’s law of gravity. But this time around it’s not an apple falling, it’s their web site.
As a long-time veteran of cyberspace I had nearly forgotten the consequences of a fallen web site. Recently, I had the occasion to experience this nightmare and learn the valuable lessons that accompany it.
If you think it can’t happen to you, think again. (Many of my woes were avoidable, but I got sloppy. (I promise to explain how YOU can learn from my mistakes in a minute .)
You see, like many of you right now, I thought I was safe. I went with one of the larger web hosting companies. They promised daily backups. They promised 99% uptime – even guaranteed it.
Promises are made to be broken…
My 1000+ page site, bizweb2000.com, the source of 100% of my small business income, crashed. When it is down, my income stops. I now know how cold and lonely cyberspace is when your web site is dead. Not only are these times lonely, lengthy periods with a dead web site can be very costly.
Take it from me. The grand tally from my recent outage totaled well into thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Not a big deal for a large corporation, but for a home-based business like mine, it’s a figure not to be taken lightly.
But could I really have avoided it?
Maybe it was just a little bad luck? After all, downtime comes with the territory. Outages in cyberspace are far from uncommon and there will certainly be more in the future. If I could have avoided any of this bad fortune, I certainly would have, right? But my own computer was fine. The crash occurred at my web hosting company, er, that is my former hosting company, but I’ll get to that.
The fact is, I could have done something before it was too late, but I didn’t!
I AM to blame, just as much as anyone else involved. And when YOUR web site crashes and stays down for long periods of time, it may be YOUR fault too! Let me explain…
First I’ll tell the tale of my little nightmare, then, I’ll reveal the steps YOU can take to avoid such a debacle.
Note: For the record, I will not reveal the name of the hosting company that brought me to my knees. If you MUST know, drop me a line personally. It is not my intention to hurt their business, however badly they wounded mine. I’ll admit that it was tempting, but malicious intent is not my style and the purpose of this article is to help you, not hurt them.
Anyway, it all started a few months ago. I noticed that I was not receiving my normal volume of email one day, so I sent myself a test message. Sure enough, my bizweb2000 email addresses were dead. I promptly emailed support at my hosting company and a day-long wait ensued. After hours of silence, I called them. "It should be working now" they said. "It’s not," I replied. So they "took another look" and it finally started working an hour or so later. No message or call from them, just silence. I chalked that up as just a fluke. I was wrong.
A few weeks after that incident my email addresses went dead again. In addition, I had recently been notified that my allowed 1 gig of transfer per month had been surpassed and my monthly fee would be tripled. Since I was far from thrilled with the support and I was now paying a premium price, it made sense to look elsewhere.
After much research, I finally located a support-based web hosting company where I would move my site. What I did NOT do was transfer my domain and web site to this new host right away. I was going on vacation for a week and figured I’d do it when I got back. This was mistake #1. Had I gone ahead and transferred it before I left, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. But here I am.
What happened next was THE CRASH… and the scrambling…
At 8 am on Friday morning I fired up my PC to pick up my email and retrieve the orders from my secure server. As my browser opened, it stalled. "Cannot connect to www.bizweb2000.com" it said. Hmmm… I thought. I’ll try it in a little while.
Well, "a little while" turned into repeated emails and phone calls to my web hosting company. While I did receive confirmation from support that their servers were indeed down, the next sentence worried me a bit "We really don’t know what’s wrong yet" the support specialist wrote.
With that, I emailed the president of the company and got out of my office and went for a drive. I couldn’t do much and the stress was building. I figured I’d be better off not thinking about it. (Mistake #2)
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Upon returning at 6:30pm, I went directly to my PC and jumped online. Site STILL down.
I was able to retrieve my email and there were messages from support and the president. They came in a 2:40. "Sorry about the down time. It’s back up now." they explained.
Ahhhh. But did they actually check MY site? Obviously not. It was dead as a doornail at 6:30 when I checked.
I called again and caught someone before they left for the evening. He promised to email someone else about it and have them look at it. Later that evening my site was brought back up.
That is, until the next crash – the following Tuesday morning. This second crash lasted over a week!! What’s more, they lost all their data and had no backup! But that’s another story altogether. In the meantime, I called my new web hosting company and ordered my domain transfer. I had to get my business off this web host’s dead servers!
What I learned next was even more discouraging. It seems that when I originally ordered my domain, that same web host had registered it in their name, and not mine. Why? Who knows? But technically, they owned my domain even though I had paid for it and had been shelling out $125 a month to have it hosted.
Needless to say, my problems were getting worse, not better.
Well, to keep this long story from getting any longer, I’ll skip to the end. It took some doing, including multiple phone calls and letterhead faxes, but I managed to convince InterNic, the organization that handles domain registrations and transfers, that bizweb2000.com was in fact mine and that I had to have it moved from these dead servers. Luckily, InterNic proceeded with the order.
So, here I am. Happy as a clam once again. My domain transfer has been completed and my web site is up and running again on my new server.
All of which brings me to the moral of this story:
(Remember as I started this horrible tale I promised that I would reveal the steps YOU can take to avoid such a debacle?) Well, the steps are below for your reading pleasure. Hey, there’s no point in suffering like I did when all it takes is a little inside info, right? With that, I invite you to learn from MY
- NEVER (I mean Never, Ever, Never) sign up with a web hosting company that does not offer 24 hour, 7 day a week support. That means LIVE support, not automated replies. If you do not have the ability to speak with a live person via telephone or email, you will sooner or later be in dire straits like I was. Test the support before signing up with the web host.
- Do NOT sign up with a web host without first contacting a handful of their current customers and asking them about support. (Not referrals that THEY give you, but customers that YOU find. You can do this by visiting their bulletin board area or chat room, if they have one. If not, ask them for a long list of customers you can contact and call lots of them.)
- Do NOT let YOUR domain be registered under someone else’s name. Make sure YOU are the administrative contact. This will allow you to transfer your domain without your host being involved. It will speed things up and give you the freedom that your rightfully deserve.
- Put two items high on your list: Peering and Mirroring. Peering is having multiple backbones coordinated in such a way that when one line gets too slow the server is automatically switched to the fastest line out. While many providers have "multiple connections" to the Internet a very, few percentage of them are able to truly "peer". This means your site will always be connected at the fastest speed available. Similarly, "mirroring" means placing servers at different locations. This not only serves as a back-up, but it enhances your sites accessibility and connection speeds from all over the world.
- ALWAYS keep YOUR OWN back-up copy of your site. As a matter of
fact, keep fresh copies on your hard drive and weekly or monthly copies on a zip disk or tape backup. Never rely on your web hosting company’s promise of back-up. (Luckily, this is one mistakeI did not make!)
Well, that wraps up my little nightmare. I hope you enjoyed it. And do me one little favor would you? Look before you leap. If you are considering putting a web site up, make sure you follow the guidelines above. If you already have a web site, take a hard look at your current web host. Is it a disaster waiting to
happen, like mine was? Send a message to your support team and see how long it takes them to get back to you. If you are even a little concerned, you may have good reason to be.
If so, don’t wait until you’re counting your losses. If you have ever considered moving your site to a more responsive, professional host, take it from me – it’s much easier to act than react. Once the nightmare starts, cyberspace is a cold and lonely place.
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