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When Acts of God Bring Down Web Hosts


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mugley

With just about every hosting service now promising 99 percent uptime, you’ve just got to wonder what happens during the other 1 percent.

Here are some of the freakiest things that have brought down web hosts.

How Moving Vehicles can obliterate your Website
Rackspace is a very popular company specializing in datacenter operation. They host some of the most popular websites on the internet. They offer the famous 100% uptime guarantee, which has attracted website giants such as Motorola, 37 Signals, and Laughing Squid. Rackspace was even voted as one of the most reliable hosts- year after year.

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What Rackspace can’t stop is the force of a moving truck power-driving into a transformer. As the transformer blew, so did the electricity. Rackspace was apparently caught at a bad time, as the back-up generators were lacking the proper cooling needed to sustain power. The back-up generators were eventually pulled offline, and a slew of websites came down with them.

Web hosts can protect against denial of service attacks, hacking attempts, and common security vulnerabilities- but they just can’t compare to the force of a moving truck.

Mother Nature Rears her Ugly Head
A truck isn’t that bad. If we were determined enough, we could surround our datacenter and necessary utilities with a 30 foot wall of cement. We would still be vulnerable to the fierce force of Mother Nature, who took out the ServerBeach datacenter in Virginia.

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In this case, a power outage caused the ServerBeach datacenter to go into generator mode- much like Rackspace. And also like Rackspace, ServerBeach had problems with getting their air conditioning units online. As the temperatures quickly rose in the datacenter, the entire supply of servers had to be immediately shut down to save everything.

The utility company did manage to bring electricity back online- which led us all to question: do any of the air conditioning units in datacenters actually work?

Things Tend to Catch Fire

It probably wasn’t possible mentioning web hosting nightmares without also mentioning Dreamhost. Dreamhost is rather famous for multiple outages, covering a broad spectrum of reasons. What’s more exciting than a good campfire in the datacenter?

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Apparently when generators catch fire, websites start to go down. And not just a few- a good number of customers suddenly realized maybe a fire-prone datacenter isn’t the best kind to invest in. Dreamhost didn’t get any slack- negative customer feedback flooded their blog as the story was unfolding.

Who can blame them? It seems if datacenters aren’t catching fire these days, they are getting attacked by trucks or lightning storms.

A Look to the Future
If you haven’t heard, Japan is investigating alternative placement of datacenters. Their best idea yet: abandoned coal mines. Apparently placing a datacenter in an abandoned coal mine is estimated to save millions in electricity costs annually.

We’re all a fan of saving electricity- and even a fan of keeping datacenters away from truck drivers. But we aren’t so keen on the idea of what’s next. Think about it; the next time your website goes down could be because of a coal mine collapse. Or even perhaps a bit of underground pollution clogged the ventilation system in the server room- either way it sounds like recovery time will be a little longer than normal.

Who’s Safe?
No one is safe from being exterminated from the internet. If major corporations can fall to the vehicle accident, thunderstorm, fire, mine collapse- you name it- then you won’t fare any better. Your best bet? Follow Google’s example and invest in as many datacenter locations as needed- after all, how many coincidences can happen across multiple locations spanning the entire world?

And even then, we are all subject to the occasional conspiracy.

[tags] web hosting [/tags]



19 Comments

  1. Dito Says:

    kinda like the sinking of the titanic, they said it couldnt be done, and then it happened

  2. Mobile Answers Says:

    Round these parts of Digg, we call them Acts of Randomness.

  3. Russ @ bombay potatoes Says:

    Fires seem to be the worst culprit. Let's not forget the undergound fire in Manchester that took out a ton of cables some years ago: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/3577799.stm

    Although sometimes, when a host goes down, I wonder whether they are being 100% honest 😉

  4. Sean Says:

    What about the Hurricane which took out all the main optical fibre connections to Australia? The connection between Australia and America was lost which caused a redirection through Hawaii and large pings were had by all.

  5. Pietro Watanabe Says:

    Coal mines are also susceptible to methane buildup. And a perfect ignition source: Data Centers!

  6. Alex Says:

    As far as I'm concerned, the worst is not on this list. foxlink networks out of orlando florida was hit by a florida hurricane in 2004 ? and not only did their data center go down, their business disappeared off the face of the earth altogether. It's still fishy as to what exactly happened, since i did manage to track down a couple of the people from the business later on, and it seemed that while they could have recovered after the hurricane, they just decided to throw in the towel instead. so much for valued customers...

    I lost a domain completely out of the deal - it was registered through godaddy, and i didn't control the dns, foxlink did. so it went down since their servers were gone, and i could do nothing to change it. i had to quick throw up another site, from an OLD backup, and try for word of mouth to get the users of the site to find me. And instead of godaddy releasing it at the end of the registration, they put it up on a domain auction (crooks), and i managed to find out and was involved in the bidding (on my domain!), but i got wrapped up in something at work, and missed out on the final bidding, so i lost it.

    Pretty much a worst possible case scenario, especially if that would have been a business-related domain that I relied on for sales.

  7. Andrew Says:

    @Alex:

    You shouldn't have lost the domain just because you didn't control the DNS. Just log into Godaddy and change the DNS servers for your domain. In short: your fault.

  8. Mark Says:

    Loving this article merely for the Manchester reference in the comments. Blimey I didn't realise it was nearly four years ago... now I feel old.

  9. Dan Says:

    In contrast, Zipa, the people who hosted somethingawful.com, were hit by hurricane Katrina and kept their servers up with a diesel generator.
    http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/paypal-fiasco-summary.php

  10. yournamehere Says:

    Yeah data centres generate lots of heat and they also sometimes cacth fire. we should surround them with with a fire-proofing, heat repelling material.

    Failing that, surround them with a million tonnes of coal instead.

  11. painkiller Says:

    Yeah, this list is lame. All of those accidents were 100% preventable. A truck is not an act of God, it's an act of Jack Daniles and Buttguiser.

    Isn't Zipa's suite number like 1001? doesn't sound like a gound floor suite number. It'd be like running your DC from Noha's Ark. Now if the DC was in the basement and they had a periscope THAT would be impressive. What's more impressive is that they still had an OC3 that was running.

  12. ronald Says:

    Off topic, and not spam.. I'm really liking this blog and the topics you choose to cover. This along with the paypal horror stories were a great/informative read. Welcome to my google homepage!

  13. spenser Says:

    I am surprised that at least one mention was not made about data center flooding.

    It was a few years ago, but someone decided that it was a good idea to build a date center below ground. I take it that the fact that water seeks low ground was of no concern to them. At the end of the storm, it was deemed cheapest to just shutter the whole thing.

    Even if you use a content distribution network, keep in mind that multiple origin servers in geographically diverse locations are required to be able to stay afloat.

    The exception is if the CDN system is smart enough to retain caches where the origin servers have disappeared for extended durations. And that will work only if the entire site is run through the CDN and not just parts of it.

  14. small_host Says:

    The bottom line is redundancy if you have a website that is valuable to you you better treat it as such. I am a small web host and this is exactly what I tell my customers. Back up your sites. I mail out a email news letter every week to all customers and the very first line is "Have you backed up your website this week" This covers my ass if I ever lose a server. All the servers run raid but you never really know. If my data center did burn to the ground I can say, Well I did warn you to back up your site every week now didn't I. Bottom line is Back up often and even do things such as dual hosting accounts in different parts of the country then use remote dns that you can change on the fly. If the site goes down in one data center then switch dns and it will be up in the other data center within a few minutes. I have complete backups of all my sites on my hard drive (which is itself auto backed up to a second drive every night) I run my own small data center (I am not just a reseller) but I do have reseller accounts with 2 other data centers. I can move any site or account to the new data center and have the website uploaded and the dns changed over night and be back in business. True most of my sites and my customer sites are fairly simple. If the site was larger and data base driven this would be a lot more complicated but as I said if the site is a money maker you just better treat it as such and take precautions. Bla bla all just based on logic right? The amazing thing is how many people who run a profitable website just seem to ignore logic and be unprepared. In my news letter I tell my customers that if they ever lose everything they can just consider that they did it on purpose as they were warned ever week it could happen and told exactly step by step how to plan and avoid this by keeping a full copy of their site as a backup.

  15. jeff Says:

    what about the tornodo that took down the equinix ashburn facility a few years back.

  16. Steven Says:

    Another disaster:

    http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=549369

  17. Richard Ward Says:

    After spending 10 years in the hosting industry, a few trucks here and there isn't a bad track record given all the hosting start-ups and 1-man companies you could be trusting your site to.

    I'll take my chances with the Mack.

  18. Ferodynamics Says:

    You missed Sealand, the island platform datacenter guarded by guys with machine guns. WIRED did a whole article on how "safe" it was. Supposedly filled with an unbreathable gas for added security. Well, the whole thing caught fire.

  19. Zadling Says:

    I wonder what your thoughts on HostGator are. They had a server outage a weeks ago for all of their clients. My website was down for about 5 hours. Absolutely everyone was freaking out. The only way to get updates was through Twitter thankfully. Their support was down. There was literally 1,000 tweets per minutes when they went down. Ever since then I haven't had a problem though.

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