Cloud hosting has continued its march to be a disruptive change to the hosting marketplace. As customers become less interested (or realizing there are other options) in managing and replacing or upgrading hardware year after year the idea of hosting in the cloud becomes increasingly attractive. Couple this with huge improvements in reliability, support, flexibility, scalability and much more; the Cloud is rapidly becoming the new choice of those looking for solid hosting.
Advantage #1 – Uptime Reliability
The disadvantage in the past was that Cloud was only being offered in beta by some companies such as Amazon, therefore reliability and service delivery were sketchy at best, not to mention technology has come a long way since the early cloud was being offered by those still experimenting with Cloud offerings.
That was then. Now the advantages are greater than ever that a reputable Cloud host, such as Superb Internet and others, will provide you with better reliability than you would have in either a “server in your office” scenario or a simple dedicated server solution within a data center. The reality is that Cloud solutions are comprised of all the same hardware as in traditional dedicated server hosting with the additional benefit of virtualization and high availability; making hardware issues practically invisible to the end users and providing the peace of mind that your Virtual Machine (VM) is always accessible. Continue reading Top 9 Advantages of Cloud Computing→
Clearly, one of the most important aspects of your website is how often it actually is a website. After all, if no one can access it, it’s not really a site but more of the idea of a site. Also, at times, it may be “up” but not fully functional… a groggy website that does not want to be bothered. Uptime, then, is a word used often by those conducting business online.
Uptime is also often phrased as “reliability” or “availability.” A site with high-availability has very little downtime because it is based on a system that is highly reliable. The same can be said of a 24-hour shoelaces store: if you need shoelaces at 3:30 AM, Every-time Lace Shop has got you covered. Plus, they won’t ask you any questions, such as, “Why are you here?” or, “Are you sure you need shoelaces?”
Hosting companies are highly concerned with the uptime their clients receive. They have to be, because it is one of the core concerns of anyone looking for a hosting solution: “What’s your guarantee for the maximum amount of downtime allowed?” Typically a hosting company will guarantee 99% uptime or 99.9% uptime or 99.99% uptime, possibly more – such as 200%, which is highly remarkable.
*** Pause for a commercial break: In our case, notably, we don’t allow any unscheduled downtime. For that reason, we guarantee 100% uptime in our Service Level Agreement (SLA) with all our clients. If we ever fall under that number, we will reimburse you and possibly (don’t count on it) give you a back rub. ***
In this two-part series, sponsored by Darrell’s Free Tool Shed International (a nonprofit tool-provisionary outfit), we will look at a number of different free tools to assist you in uptime-monitoring. These are tools you can use to ensure that you are getting the uptime you are guaranteed when you sign up for your hosting account.
We will use a couple different sources to broaden our perspective: Mashable and WPMU. Both sites provide 10-12 different options for free software you can use to monitor your uptime.
It’s a good idea to install all available software, create an intricate schedule to monitor your uptime-monitoring software, and then consider installing uptime-monitoring-software-monitoring software. Keep layering and layering until your uptime-monitoring matrix forms a layer cake of satisfaction that tastes good and is reasonably filling.
Free Online Uptime Monitoring Tools
Without further ado, here are several tools you can use to ensure you are getting the uptime you deserve. If you aren’t, phone your Congressman and bark into his voicemail (and whatever you do, don’t meow) … Also, e-mail your hosting company with details (including your barking experience).
The way this software works is it checks your header code. If there is ever an error, it digs deeper. If the more in-depth analysis suggests real problems, you are immediately notified by any of the methods listed above, or by airhorn.
Contact options: text (20 max./month), iPhone, e-mail
Pingdom is massive within this sector and primarily likes to make money, but it does offer a no-frills, unpaid option. Though it is limited to just one site, the phone app may make it worthwhile when you are walking, climbing trees, or jumping off your roof into a pile of Jell-O for a hilarious reality TV series.
Contact options: RSS, text, e-mail, instant message, paper airplane
This application is the dumbed-down version of Monitis, but it is easy to install and use. Rather than just notifying you of problems, the application creates statistics broken down into various time-frames. The stats populate immediately, for efficiency, or in slow-motion, for dramatic effect.
This site, so it says, is presently monitoring almost 2,000,000 sites. The company has gotten a bad rap for being aggressive with mass marketing campaigns. However, it allows numerous different people to be notified of downtime, and statistics – including CDC pandemic figures – are sent out to you each week.
Contact options: no notifications, except singing telegram
Uptrends, rather than being focused on letting you know when periods of downtime occur, is geared toward making your visitors aware how seamlessly your site delivers content. You can embed the code for its button, and it checks your site globally every half an hour. When anyone clicks the button, they receive information related to various time-frames, up to the previous year. (Previous eon is only available to Paleolithic users, most of whom are deceased.)
Conclusion & Continuation
So far, we have gotten a sense of several of the most high-profile and useful options out there for uptime monitoring. There are many more solutions available, and we will review some of those other major tools in the second and final part of this series. Then we will get a bite to eat and talk at length about my maritime marital problems, which are extensive and difficult to resolve, due to my chronic seasickness.
High-availability, as we learned in the last installment, has changed conceptually since the days of yesteryear and, for that matter, even near-year. It no longer just refers to the full-access, all-hours, 24/7/365 immediate-response policies of a man looking for love in all the wrong places and some of the right ones. It’s no longer about a man with a well-groomed mustache offering shoulder massages at closing time.
No, in the world of computers, high-availability is a completely different matter. Instead, it deals specifically with the uptime of a network. To properly understand uptime, we must consider that it is not merely about eliminating incidences of failure within a network (because, per Microsoft, failures are by their nature unpredictable). Rather, it is also about high rates of recovery so that the system is not affected for an extended period. With sound recovery methods, data delivery remains consistent. That’s why I carry a slide-rule with me to re-straighten my hair part if someone gives me a noogie.
To bolster our understanding of high-availability in this tripartite miniseries, we are assessing the perspectives of Microsoft, Oracle, and Linux Virtual Server. Today, looking specifically at the Oracle article, we will discuss several problem-solving methods.
While we consider high-availability, let’s put on our Easter bonnets and throw eggs at passing cars, focusing especially on the ones with their windows down. We’ll only be 13 once.
Availability: Quick Review
Oracle defines high-availability as “the ability of users to access a system without loss of service.” Really, that seems like a definition of availability. High-availability means that scenario is occurring almost all of the time. Even in a highly redundant system, there will always be occasional errors and glitches. Regardless, a system in which availability is optimized is highly reliable and does not experience very much downtime. A good example of this, according to the women of Austin, Texas, is my reproductive system.
Downtime can be thought of as scheduled and unscheduled. When it is unscheduled, the downtime is due to some type of systemic failure. When it is scheduled, users can be notified that upgrades or other system administration is being conducted (as with a hosting company and its clients, or with a website posting a notice to visitors). “Scheduled downtime typically occurs late at night, when traffic is light, all right, baby, all right,” crooned Barry Manilow.
High-Availability Problem Solving
Various types of problems can of course occur in a system. Types of common failures include those occurring within processors, nodes, and in various forms of media. Human error can also cause failures, as can monkey and camel error. Availability can maintain a high level by both focusing on localized problem-solving as well as methods of recovery in the event of a natural disaster, such as flooding or datacenter technician stampede.
Different sorts of best practices and technological solutions can help to make high-availability a reality. Redundancy, says Oracle, is the most important parameter to enhance availability: “High availability comes from redundant systems and components.” The same parameter applies to the man with the well-groomed mustache mentioned above, as he repeats the same psychosexual sales pitch over and over again, optimizing his systemic redundancy. Looking at solutions for localized high-availability in terms of redundancy splits potential fixes into active-active and active-passive groups.
Active-active availability mechanisms: These mechanisms allow better scalability along with increased availability. Transmissions are duplicated in real time.
Active-passive availability mechanisms: In this scenario, sometimes called cold failover clusters, one system instance is handling requests and the other one is sitting and pondering, running its finger through its hair, waiting patiently to be called into action. It chews gum and looks sullen. Clustering is used to integrate the two instances, with the clustering agent monitoring the active instance and switching over to the passive one as necessary.
Other Local High-Availability Solutions
Other safeguards should be in place to make sure your availability is as reliable as possible. Here are a few examples; we will proceed with more in the final part of this series:
Automatic restart & process death detection
You don’t want the system to continually restart multiple times in a relatively short window. Restarting can lead to additional failure. Technology should be in place to disallow repetitive, automated restarts. The same principle applies to excessively restarting one’s day. You should never get in and out of bed more than two dozen times before proceeding to breakfast.
Processes can die due to systemic errors. If processes are problematic, you do want a restart to be in place to give the process another chance. Don’t give it 10,000 chances though. Processes are greedy about grabbing all the chances.
Clustering means that the client computer (PC or other device accessing your system) will consider that part of your system to be one unit. This practice makes processing and administering the system easier. You can have processes clustered together and working on one server or on various servers, with the work divided evenly. It enhances redundancy by spreading out the process. Granola, similarly, is a highly redundant food. It should be eaten at all times when managing a server, even if you aren’t hungry.
Conclusion, Continuation & Poem
Availability and uptime are complex, but there are plenty of solutions out there to make sure that systems are as failsafe as possible. As stated above, I will continue to go over more of the safeguards that can maximize your availability in the final part of this series.
Now, finally, on a somber note, I’d like to close with a love poem to a dead process I once knew dearly … Well, maybe it’s not a love poem but a statement of redundancy-related anxiety. Anyway, it’s beautiful:
So what is this new-fangled concept called “high-availability?” Traditionally, high-availability has been experienced by women in nightclubs, when a man has walked up and said to them, “Hey you, I just want you to know that I’m not like these other hard-to-get jokers in here. I’m available 24/7, around-the-clock, to come over to your place and give you a shoulder massage.”
In computer terms, high-availability is different. It refers to how fault-tolerant or resilient a network is, how capable it is of delivering a website accurately every time. If there is an error in one specific location of the software or hardware, that does not affect user experience because the system accounts for the difficulties and resolves them prior to delivery. It similar to a pizza place that checks to make sure there is no maliciously discarded bellybutton lint among the sausages and peppers before the pie goes out the door.
To better understand how high-availability works, let’s take a look at comments on the subject from Microsoft, Oracle, and Linux Virtual Server in this three-part series. While we study the topic, let’s pay an Olympic-trained athlete to swim in a pool that we’ve installed in a glass box over our heads, because a German study from the early 1970s indicates that it improves knowledge-retention.
Availability & Uptime
Okay, the swimmer is swimming. Thanks for chipping in $32,468. Let’s look at what availability is and how it relates to server uptime.
Availability is a general term that includes system failures, reliability, and recovery when anything does go awry. Availability is often phrased in terms of server uptime, whereas any instances of failure are considered downtime. Failure refers not just to when a system is inaccessible, but also to when it is not functioning correctly. My brain, for instance, has an average daily uptime of 23.8% even though I only sleep 90 minutes a night.
Uptime is basic math, and it can get a little boring to see every hosting company out there promoting their guaranteed 99.99% uptime. These figures, though, are significant. Just take a look at Microsoft’s figures for 99% uptime and 99.99% uptime.
With a 99% uptime guarantee, the website could experience as much as 14.4 minutes of downtime each day and 3.7 days of downtime each year. With a 99.9% uptime guarantee, those figures are cut to 86.4 seconds per day and 8.8 hours per year. Um… I don’t want to distract you, but did we forget to put breathing holes in the glass box? He looks like he’s under duress. The problem is, though, the German findings do not allow for any pauses or disruptions during the learning process, so we have to continue.
A brief note on uptime as it relates to us: It’s funny to think that any amount of “unscheduled downtime” (software updates and other server maintenance) is acceptable. That’s why we guarantee 100% uptime in our service level agreement (SLA) with all our customers (reimbursing for errors) – one reason our customer retention rate is over 90%.
Prediction & Availability
Optimizing for availability of a network is complex. Every aspect of the system, from the applications being used to the way that it is administered to how it’s deployed all make an impact on availability. Microsoft recommends that failures will always occur from time to time, and those failures will of course be unexpected. Predicting moments of downtime, then, is virtually impossible. Yeah, let’s… I guess get rid of that glass box. It’s a little depressing.
However, a system will automatically become more reliable as a network develops stronger recovery mechanisms. Microsoft points out, “If your system can recover from failures within 86.4 seconds, then you can have a failure every day and still achieve 99.9 percent availability.” I’ve used this same logic to explain to my wife why it’s acceptable for me to stare at the ceiling and shriek like a wounded and deranged animal for 86 seconds every day when I walk in the door from work.
Effect on Page Loads & Revenue
Availability can be thought of simply as uptime, but it can also be thought of in terms of transactions, such as those on an e-commerce site. The same math really applies to any situation when thought of in terms of pages failing to load or loading incorrectly.
A website with 99.9% availability or uptime that receives 10,000 data requests from visitors each day will experience 10 failures per day and 70 per week. The following is from a table Microsoft provides defining different availability figures as fulfilling the requirements of certain types of systems:
Commercial – 99.5%
Highly available – 99.9%
Fault resilient – 99.99%
Fault tolerant – 99.999%
Continuous – 100%
Conclusion, Continuation & Poem
Okay, so that gives us a basic starting point for exploring availability. Again, if you like the idea of 100% uptime, that’s our promise – and we put our money where our mouth is in our SLA (and also I put pennies in my mouth sometimes, because I like the way it tastes and can’t think of what else to do with them). Here are our solutions for shared hosting, dedicated servers, and VPSs.
We will move on with this subject in the second part of the series via discussion of the Oracle piece. I’m really sorry about the swimmer. That was a horrible idea on my part. Here is a poem to make you feel better:
Here it is, everyone … and, I know, the suspense has been maddening for all of us: Part Three, the final chapter in my series on web hosting terms of service (TOS). I will return to the conceptual admixture of Part One, capping off this trifecta with further thoughts not just on contracts, but on sentiments as well. As noted in that initial installment, the four places in which expectations are established between customer and client in hosting are in deals & offers, service level agreements (SLA’s), terms of service (TOS), and love letters sent by the company to its clients.
Let’s again briefly review what’s been covered to this point before moving forward:
Introduction (company name, contact details, and an explanation of how parties will be identified in the document)
Legal Compliance (an establishment of the notion that the company will not be held accountable for unlawful or rule-breaking behaviors by clients)
Prohibited Usage (disallowance of adult content, plagiarism, software piracy, overages that infringe on others, interference with company tracking, etc.).
Today, we will move forward with additional provisions often included in the category of Prohibited Usage. Then we will move on to Bandwidth & Utilization. Again, these particular topics – both broad and specific – are not included in every hosting contract but allow an overview of stipulations and language you will typically see.
To create a distinction between the TOS and the love letter, the TOS is typically written in very specific legal language. The love letter your hosting company will send you is written in the language of the heart and sung in your best French accent (as all romantic literature should be), in a 3/4 time-signature, accompanied by maracas and sobbing.
Prohibited Usage (Continued)
As stated in Part Two, though prohibition is annoying for clients (no one wants to hear “no”), these guidelines are actually not all bad. Do you really want someone who is in the same hosting network that you are participating in hacking or high-malware industries such as pornography? If you answered maybe, well, that’s a better response than I get to most of my marriage proposal web hosting postcards: “Customer Survey: Will you marry me? (Check One.).”
The three standard sections left to cover are billing, mail, and customer support.
A hosting company will often specify that customers cannot use other people’s credit cards (what?!) or create a technological workaround to prevent the system from billing them correctly (double-what?!). Obviously, hosting companies like the purchase of their services to be an honest transaction. My love letters, similarly, are honest above all else. It’s with sincerity that I write, “I can’t stop thinking about your beautiful elbows.”
Typically provisions related to e-mail focus heavily on the prohibition of spam – technically called unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). Spam can be a difficult issue, because in some cases, companies send an initial e-mail asking for an “opt-in” from recipients. However, because people are so sick of unwanted e-mail, many will complain just based on the initial query e-mail.
Since mass-mailing is such a crucial part of online business, there are several things you can do to make sure you don’t become categorized as a spammer by your host:
Include a note to recipients reminding them that they signed up for the list
Make unsubscribing simple.
In addition to anti-spam provisions, the TOS may also state that mail will not remain on the hosting company’s servers longer than a specified time period, such as 90 days.
Terms of service will also often include a section requiring that a client maintain a respectful, non-harassing relationship with the company’s support staff.
Bandwidth & Utilization
This section details what is allowable with regards to the following:
bandwidth – the “stream” through which your Internet traffic runs
utilization – usage of server storage and other resources.
Here are a couple of standard provisions:
Non-Transference & Reselling
Typically a hosting company will state that the client cannot use its space on the server to store materials that are unrelated to the specific website(s) listed in its account with the host. Additionally, the customer must use the company’s authorized reseller program if they want to resell the space allotted to them to other clients: it’s not okay to set up a system oneself to resell pieces of the hosting package. Similarly, I notify clients in my love letters that I am hooked and will no longer be reselling pieces of my heart to the highest bidders at Plenty of Fish (not the dating site – a fish market in Sacramento).
Hot-linking can be a problem regarding this provision. You might want to set up tools to prevent that. Generally speaking, you want anyone who is using images from your site to download the image and upload it to their own server rather than simply linking to the image on your site. Linking to your image may not be malicious, but it uses your bandwidth to populate the image on the Web; for that reason, it’s typically considered a form of “bandwidth theft.”
That’s it for our explanation of terms of service. This series has really been a small sampling of the types of content that is included in these documents. However, you should now have a reasonable understanding of the typical contents, tone, and scope of the web hosting TOS. Finally, let’s go to a baseball game. I want to ask you a question on the Jumbotron.
Here we go again! In case you didn’t get enough from Part One of this series on web hosting TOS documents (a.k.a. terms of service), I’m going to be dishing it out hot and heavy today. I will fill your plate with the mashed potatoes that is terms of service, and then I will pour on some gravy… which is… the world’s best defense against the blandness of the potato.
To rehash from the last piece, we covered two typical clauses of the terms of service:
Introduction (name of company, contact information, designation of terms to denote parties referenced in the document, etc.)
Legal Compliance (indemnification of the company – to clear them legally and financially – if the client does anything illegal or contrary to the TOS).
Today we will cover what types of usage of the services provided by the company are disallowed, a section that’s typically called something like “Prohibited Usage.” Everybody hates prohibition. There is a reason we wandered off to speakeasies in the roaring 20s (and I remember my carefree flapper days like it was yesterday).
For clarity (as stated in Part One), the TOS’s used by different hosting companies tend to be fairly similar, but they certainly aren’t identical. What’s written below is simply an overview and explanation of provisions and language that you often come across.
Prohibited Usage – Overview
Often this section of the terms of service is almost ridiculously broad in scope. Like some other sections of the document (and as is typical of business contracts), the TOS could really also be called the company’s CYA against getting beaten up by frivolous lawsuits (such as when Clarence Thomas hit me with a sexual-harassment suit for peeking under his cloak … where I found a secret, second cloak!).
However, if a company specifies what you can and cannot do, that TOS is (obviously) much easier to understand. In turn, you know exactly what you need to do in order to comply with the company’s expectations.
General – Pornography, Malware, Pirating & Fair Use
Adult & Malicious Content – Disallows content related to pornography and gambling; also specifies that the client cannot use malicious or unlawful software (hacking programs, etc.). It also might state that you cannot promote or link to sites with warez content (essentially proprietary software that is illegally shared with a broader audience).
Intellectual Property & Pirating – This section disallows you from having any content on your site that disregards intellectual property rights, such as copyright; it also might disallow pirated software.
Restriction of Fair Use – Though often the language of this provision is a little vague, it primarily applies to shared hosting environments; it prevents users from engaging in activities that generate huge spikes in traffic, bumping other clients off-line or regularly making their sites extremely slow.
Back when I was an elementary school principal, I used provision #3 to expel more than 200 children (the entire second grade class, actually) for getting in my way while I was trying to get to the cafeteria. I was subsequently fired, but it was worth it, because it was the right thing to do (I was hungry).
Network & System
Malware Intrusion – If malware enters the network through your site, the hosting company has a right (and often an obligation to its other clients) to quarantine you and possibly eject you from its service.
DDoS, Hacking & Fraud – Hosts will often include several different provisions related to criminal misuse of their network, including entering other users’ accounts, installing bots for distributed denial of service (DDoS) or other hacking efforts, and scanning of ports.
Alteration of Monitoring & Tracking – A client may not do anything that will interfere with the way that the hosting company collects and analyzes tracking data; note that often your own monitoring and analytics software could interfere with this provision, so it’s important to know whether or not you are in compliance.
Negative Impact & Usage – You may also see broad provisions that allow the hosting company to determine what it deems is harmful and unacceptable; provisions like this allows huge leeway for account termination.
Back when I was a high school football coach, I used provision #4 to have the school mascot (a moose named Chester) forcibly removed from the stadium for a repeated display of poorly executed cartwheels. I was subsequently given a huge raise, a reward for a vehement and take-no-prisoners display of my manhood.
Terms of service: they are long and unwieldy, but it’s good to know what we’re getting into. After all, better to know than not know, so we don’t accidentally make a misstep that gets us booted off a hosting service.
To review, today we covered two subsections of usage prohibition:
General – Disallowance of “adult content,” malware, and pirating; and disallowance of activities that interfere with other clients’ usage (sudden traffic spikes, etc.)
Network & System – Disallowance of hacking; and disallowance of anything that interferes with the host’s monitoring/tracking or that otherwise negatively impacts the company.
That does it for the first half of prohibited use, which we will continue to explore in the next piece of this series (the final of three), after which I will be given a raise and then immediately fired (that’s my hunch).