Thursday, November 19, 2009

Virtual hosts

I wrote about my experience with my Website host from Friday the 13th when they shutdown all updates to Websites to move all their Websites to a "new server", which they didn't say but implied it was an upgrade of their equipment. It wasn't. And that began the tale of woe on both our parts.

I followed the instructions in the letter saying the system will be back up Monday the 16th and all Websites owners can begin updating their Websites. So I did with the mid-month news, access and information about Mt. Rainier NP. I checked everything that night, made some edits Tuesday morning, checked it was there and working, and then left for meetings and errands.

Tuesday night I checked it before doing other things, and I discovered it was back to the Friday version. Talk about a big, "Huh?" So off with the e-mails, to their Internet "helpdesk" which resulted in sending me to another e-mail address and phone number, which if I had read the letter, on the bottom is the same phone number. Ok, my oversight; ok, mistake.

Well, all day Wednesday I kept communicating with the IT staff to find out where my updates went and to get a picture of what was really happening with this move. I discovered they moved all their Internet connections from their Tacoma office to their main office in Centralia, a small, rural town in southwest Washington, one you drive by on the Interstate with all of three exits, north, downtown and south.

I discovered they didn't transfer all the Websites over the weekend, but continued to transfer them Monday and Tuesday, but not the latest on-line copy, thinking folks did update their Website, but from the Friday backup server.They didn't send any notice about this delay to the Website owners that their updates wouldn't be used. Hence, the Friday version instead of the Tuesday version.

I discovered they didn't really move to their new servers, but moved everything to a Website mega-server in Florida. Apparently it's the trend now for small Website hosts, don't host, but be a virtual host and put everything on the mega-servers. I called some other local ones and they do the same thing. They're not real except as the DNS host and throughput to the mega-server.

Well, by late Wednesday night we had resolved all but one technical problem and I had my updated Website back on-line and current. It turned out the directions for the ftp client had the wrong server, theirs, so all my updates, which I had made some global changes and needed to update the entire Website, wasn't being seen, but simply lost. It took several hours to sort out the ftp IP and userid and password to the real server.

And so I did, and after some errors on my part, I finally got it back on-line and working to update Web pages again. But it got me to thinking. So if they're just a virtual host, why am I paying them as a real host? They're obviously paying for the service, and with my money for my Website, and the rest for their costs. But what are the real costs now for a Website?

I discovered I can't contact the mega-server. They don't have a public or customer support system. They only talk and work with the virtual host companies. So any problems are through my host to them, which also made me wonder what I'm paying for since they can only see a problem but not resolve it. They have to get the mega-server to solve any problem.

This is what I learned because it's how they helped solve the problems. They could only replicate what I was doing but with their computers and applications. And that was part of the problem because they don't run Mac's. They run Windows and Linux manchine, so they couldn't actually help some of the technical problems, one which hasn't been resolved.

So, what good is virtual host? I'm wondering that as my annual bill comes in December. I'm curious what I'm paying for when I can get another host, even a mega-host, cheaper. What will they add to the service because they access to more disk space for hosting? Right now I have the bulk of my Website content elsewhere because of the quota they imposed for their machines. That's now gone. Can I move or copy to the mega-server without raising their costs and then my costs?

Anyway, it was an interesting exercise in frustration and not so good customer support. But then they're not known for their customer support. Nor are they known for communications to effected Website owners and customers. This is the third time they've done something or changed something without telling us and leaving us to call, which itself is an exercise in frustration as their helpdesk seems to have a prime rule, "First, blame the customer's computer."

I still like them because they're local, a person on the phone who knows me and a place (office) to go to stand in front of a receptionsist. But I suspect they will close the Tacoma office and move everything to Centralia. There's nothing left there except a few computers and servers to redirect Internet traffic. That too can be moved and likely will in the future.

And I'll lose my "local" Website host. And even the one in Centralia will just be a virtual host. Not imaginary people, but still no one who actually do anything beyond saying, "Yup, we see the problem. We'll contact the server to see what's up and fix it." And you wait. That's what I'm paying for now, as I learned this week. And it's the way of the industry.

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