A Clients Hosting Providers Upgrade Nightmare (or not how to do it)…

Nightmare Hosting

Thought I’d share this tail of woe one of our clients just experienced…

We have just done a complete redesign of their website and fixed several technical problems in the site, as well as making it fully responsive. We DO NOT host them (although we will be soon, with a few others in tow), we just updated their website on the existing cPanel hosting that is running their WordPress instance…

We were just about to start the process of doing some social SEO for them and apparently the whole website has gone down – the homepage was displaying the cryptic message ‘Database is not available’..

Hmm,  me thinks, maybe they have been hacked?  I get into the cPanel admin interface and its screaming at me that its a ‘trial version’ – thats not good. I go into the database admin, after a long delay, the database is all there…  Okay, maybe its a ‘glitch’ I think – so I go and look in the Error Log file..   Opps, literally everything is crapping out – from the database ‘disappearing’ to problems with lack of memory and missing files not in the include path. In other words it is completely broken… Nothing is going to work in this. I try the website again – now I get some cryptic reference to a .cgi file – eh?

I send the client an email stating that I think the hosting is fundamentally broken and you need to get in touch with the hosting provider to find out what is going on.  10 minutes later I get a call from them saying that cPanel is being ‘upgraded’ and they don’t know when the site will be back….  Also they tell me the email isn’t working any more…

Hold on, so to upgrade cPanel one has to literally ‘break’ the live serving of websites & email to effect the upgrade? I feel like I have gone through a time warp back to the 90’s when hardware and disc space was expensive, and having to do in place upgrade was the only way to do it. In this day and age paying customers should NEVER experience any live website outage just due to a simple upgrade! It’s simple, you operate at least two hosting boxes, with one a complete copy of the other – which you should have in case of hardware failure anyway (more later)… Then you apply any updates to the hosting box that isn’t live, confirm everything is working as it should, and then swap  live website serving to the upgraded box. Magic, no downtime and everything is good.

At least this is the way you do upgrades if you want to ensure you have a high quality hosting environment…

To me the fact that a hosting provider thinks it is acceptable to suffer a live long outage due to an upgrade speaks absolute volumes about how much they really care about your business. For instance how much, in monetary terms, would it cost an E-Commerce website suffering such an outage? At the very least you have lost the business for the time the website is down, but also you need to consider the future revenue lost from those just ‘looking’ who happened to encounter the down website. It could be as little as a couple of hundred dollars up to several thousand…

Then there is the little problem of what happens when Google comes across such a down website – what does it index?  Yes, you have guessed it, Google will remove down websites from their index. You get about 24 hours ‘grace’, then after that you are GONE!

Then what happens if you are ‘big’ business and the media finds out you have gone off air – the negative PR would be a killer…

So, how do you find out if your hosting provider is actually serious about their website uptime?  two questions:

  1. Do they operate a mirrored hosting service? i.e. a live box and a backup box.
  2. Do they perform updates on the website hosting that involves taking down the live websites?

If they answer No to question #1 and Yes to question #2 – then you know they are literally cramming every website onto a single box that is running hotter than a bush fire. This is a BIG problem just waiting to happen due to what is known as MTTF – Mean Time To Failure. ALL hardware has a finite operating life, for things like hard drives this is usually a few years. For things like motherboards and power supplies, could be 5 to 7 years. Basically if your hosting provider operates off a single hosting box, it is just a matter of time until it totally fails. Also when systems are upgraded its often the case the upgrade might ‘remove’ support for older hardware – so there is a risk if the software is upgraded on old hardware that it might not work any more.. (This reason for failure is far more common than you would think..).

At Aykira we operate with paired hosting sets – one live, one spare – which are kept in sync. Major upgrades are done to the spare, confirmed to be working, then the spare is swapped live and NOBODY notices. the websites keep on working, no downtime experienced and everything is right in the world. We don’t even need to tell our clients we have done an upgrade, its that painless.

This is the difference with Aykira, we know how to host websites for performance and reliability. We do not ‘overload’ our hosting boxes with 100’s of websites, we know that is a totally false economy – due to the sheer nightmare waiting to happen when either the hardware or an upgrade fails… Also overloading your hosting in this way results in all the websites running slow, which is bad for your website search ranking – as Google uses speed (or not) of response in its ranking calculations..

So, do you want a website that just keeps going like the EverReady bunny? or do you want to use a hosting provider who constantly plays Russian Roulette with your website? Give us a call on (0)2 8407 8060 or use our contact form.

Note: I have nothing against cPanel in of itself – rather it tends to be set up in a way which I consider to be totally fragile in the majority case. It can be set up to be reliable but requires specialist knowledge most run of the mill hosting providers do not have.