Server Down – What you Can and Cannot Do
15th November, 2016
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It is extraordinarily frustrating when your website fails to work, this is something that goes completely un-noticed until the worst happens and things stop working.  Like having your Electricity cut or your money frozen in a bank account because you’ve entered the PIN incorrectly too often.  These are all services that we take no notice of until they fail… and then it can be agonizing  as you simply have no idea what will happen or what you can do about it.

Truth is you’re pretty powerless… and sadly that is the way it’s been arranged.  Frustrating as it is waiting until it is rectified is about the only thing you can do.

What can be done

  • Protection is the first line of defence – be prepared. We recommend services like www.cloudflare.com – CloudFlare will cache your website, offering people access to it when the real website if offline.
  • Redundancy – have a backup ready to go… taking frequent back ups of the website off-line will mean should the worst come to the worst you will have a recent copy of your website.
  • Look up on Twitter – this is where the most people complain of their service and often where a company is mostly likely to keep you updated.
  • Sign up to something like www.uptimerobot.com – so you can be alerted if the website is down (before your customers tell you).

What cannot be done

  • Getting angry or abusive (please note none of our clients are like this)
  • Redirection – I’ll come to this later – but it is not simply a case of one server does not work – let’s use another.

At this point I need to explain a little about how website hosting works.  You have your Domain Name – www.company.com and it’s set to ‘point’ or ‘resolve’ to a specific IP address.  An IP address is one of those funny numbers you come across on computers… something like 89.256.154.9.  So, in reality your domain name needs to be told the IP number of your Server.

Now, let’s imagine your website is selling your products, that means you will have a database of Orders, Customers and that sort of thing.

If your server goes down, then you only real option is to change the IP Address that your domain name points to…  That in effect is the only way you can get a new server in effect.  BUT – your orders, customers and other information is no longer in sync.  You simply cannot have every detail of one server updating another server all the time.  It’s ridiculously expensive and complicated and for 99.9% of the time totally unnecessary – we’re using up too much of the Ozone layer already yo make it worth while.

So – let imagine the worst happens, you have your back ups, you get your domain name pointed to other server – well you still cannot access any orders that came in on the old server.

Now if the other server is fixed, remember we don’t know how long it will take, then you need to swap everything back and you also need to copy across any changes you might have made in the mean time.

I hope by now the issue of ‘just re-pointing’ your domain name is not really an effective answer.  It used to be when websites were just plain old HTML static and never changing,  but these days that is not so.

OK – lecture over… sadly by far the best thing that can be down when a server goes down is to wait as best as possible until the engineers in the data centre fix everything, and it is worth bearing in mind:

  1. It is 100% in their interest to provide the quickest possible solution to the problem as they will have dozens if not thousands of customers in the same position.
  2. The engineers are probably fixing the problem long before you even know about it.  There alarm bells will have triggered long before we happen to look something up on our own websites, or receive a funny phone call from a customer.

Common Server Outages

  1. The main reason why a server goes down without fail is a lack of a payment option.  If the hosting company isn’t paid or a domain name is not renewed – you can expect to be cut off.
  2. Reboots – all servers reboot occasionally (once a month, once a week). This can lead to a few minutes of downtime.

These days Power Outages, Network Connections, Hardware failure are extremely rare.  These are dealt with at the highest levels and the service providers make every effort get things back to normal as quickly as possible.

What about Cloud Servers

Sadly – they are not immune either – we use Microsofts Azure, the very latest and best technology in existence today, I was amazed looking at their status page how often outages occurred, at least twice in the last year.

The concept of the Cloud is that your website is hosted on various servers around the world… all lovely in principal, but if the software that connects these servers plays up – you’re back to square one.

In conclusion – yes things are becoming massively better and more reliable and the Hosting Companies are investing serious technology and money in their data centre’s but situations do arise – it’s as simple as that.

99.9% uptime is a realistic situation these days – but sadly 100% is to be taken with a pinch of salt.

 

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