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The Perils of Self-Hosting

by @ 2:58 pm
Filed under: web — Tags:

Two weeks ago, when nature was flexing its muscle in the northeastern USA in the form of hurricane Sandy, I was away from home on a business trip. When the alert email from my monitoring company arrived in my inbox informing me of the web server outage, I wasn't surprised. Power had been lost, the UPS had run out of juice and the server had gone silent.

But with the return of power, the server (which was setup to spring back to life) didn't come back and with me awaiting a return flight, the outage would go on a few more days. Diagnosing the server after returning home turned out to be a futile exercise. There were no hints as to why the server had failed to properly boot. So I just powered it up, repaired a few corrupt databases and thought that was the end of it.

But the server wasn't its old self, it kept on crashing with an ever-increasing frequency. Eventually I decided that the server had suffered critical, yet unidentified, damage to its hardware and last weekend I reluctantly replaced it with a newer box. Restoring a server is no walk in the park.

Over a year ago when I decided to host this site on my own server, I knew about the risks of self-hosting. The storm and the ensuing issues certainly proved some of those risks. There were loss of traffic, user inconvenience, and loss of Google ranking. A more robust setup might have averted some of that, but this website isn't quite at the point to justify that level of operation. Still I don't regret self-hosting. A hosted service can never match the same level of control and in the end it may not necessarily be that much more reliable either.

Hosted Apps Downside - Gmail

by @ 10:28 am
Filed under: google,web — Tags: ,

Yesterday without any indication my Gmail account went into a lockout mode displaying this message when I try to login:
Gmail account maintenance

Sorry... account maintenance underway

We’re currently performing maintenance on your account. You won’t be able to log in while maintenance is underway, but your account data and messages are safe. Unfortunately, we can’t predict exactly how long this will take.

If this maintenance lasts more than 24 hours, please contact us at gmail-maintenance@google.com.

As a developer, I put nary a confidence level in the veracity of this message and I'm fairly sure there is no maintenance underway. Something has gone wrong with the program logic or someone has flagged my account or a bunch of accounts to investigate something and now my crippled account is just sitting there until someone gets to it.

So for now I have no access to new or existing emails and judging by the Gmail forum it could be offline for days with no access to tech support. Which makes me wonder, this is the same platform as Google Apps and if a business decided to host their online apps on Google, would they be able to afford this kind of downtime and no support?

Larger businesses may receive some form of technical support, but what about the smaller ones? Something to consider as an overall migration strategy. Meanwhile I wait and see when my Gmail account is resurrected. Doesn't look promising though.

Update: After nearly a 26-hour outage, Gmail is back up for me as well as a group of other users who were affected by the maintenance lockout. There was no explanation on what caused the outage. Google is notorious for ignoring individual emails from people with issues, but they do appear to skim the forums and apparently in this case the number of people posting complaints got their attention.

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