Downtime, followed by lots and lots of uptime!

I call your attention to the middle of the floor. See that crumpled orange and green and purple mound of terry cloth? Yes: that’s the towel. I threw it in just a few minutes ago.

It’s a beach towel. Sorry, it’s the only thing left in the linen closet. I haven’t done a wash in about two weeks because I’ve been so busy wrestling with the Massive Overkill hosting plan that I originally signed up for.

Y’see, when you’re an Internationally-Beloved Technology Pundit, mundane decisions can become intensely complicated.

Case in point: I’ve had it with cassette adapters. I’m finally buying a car stereo with direct iPod input. A civilian would just walk into any store, pick out a model with the right features at the right price, and be out of there in less than an hour. But this represents an opportunity for me to do…

(wait for it…)


…for an upcoming column. It’s now down to three choices, even after I made that important initial decision that I shouldn’t spend more on the stereo than the actual car is worth.

And so it went with my search for a new webhost. I sincerely have a responsibility to become less dumb about things as time moves forward and this is a swell opportunity to be able to one day say “Look, I was in precisely the same position as you last year. I completed the Warrior’s Pilgrimage and here is the Wisdom that I gained during the journey…”

Yup, I could have just dropped a quarter in the slot, turned the crank, and extracted a perfectly serviceable hosting solution packaged in a cool little plastic bubble. Instead, I wanted to check out the whole landscape of hosting solutions. I looked just about everywhere. Eventually, my cover was blown and my queries to the general customer email address were suddenly being snapped up and replied to by people with stock options.

With this added attention came many interesting opportunities to (as I say) become Less Dumb. And as usual, sometimes the most valuable thing you learn from such an opportunity is that you is much more dumberer than you thought.

Surely I’ll write a column or two about all of this eventually. But here’s the broad strokes of what I’ve learned: web hosts are like living spaces. The easiest ones are like hotel rooms. Once you’ve squared things with the front desk you can stroll right in, climb into bed, and turn on the TV. But all the furniture is bolted down.

If you feel as though you need a place where you can tear up the carpet and splash some orange paint on the walls and you don’t have at least five tracks on the Billboard Hot 100, a hotel room won’t work. You’ll be happier in one of the “apartment”-style hosts. You can really settle in and make the place your own…though there are still plenty of situations in which the best you can do is call the super and hope that he agrees with you that a skylight in the bedroom would really brighten up the room and is more than worth the minor inconvenience to the tenants in the three floors above you.

My first hosting plan was a real top-level thing, or near as it gets. It was ownership of a whole virtual server, which is like taking ownership of a converted factory building. Power and freedom are limitless. I could even turn it into a hotel or an apartment building if I wanted to, so to speak, and rent out spaces on my own. Golly!

But really, it just comes with water, power, and sewer hookups. It contains all of the infrastructure of a living, breathing, working space, but it doesn’t become habitable until I’ve made lots of smart decisions and done a lot of hands-on construction.

So: this sort of service scored ten points out of ten for providing me with a keen learning experience about installing and configuring webapps and creating services. But zero out of ten as a speedy solution to the performance issues of the Celestial Waste of Bandwidth. There’s just so much to learn and (as I commented on Twitter the other day) setting up a server is like playing an old Infocom adventure. It’s an endless series of puzzles and even when you think you’ve solved them all…you’re eventually totally screwed because three months ago, you didn’t FEED CHEESE SANDWICH TO DOG.

(A reference to the most unforgivable trick from “Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” Very early in the game, you pass by a dog and the game really does nothing to tip you off that there’s anything important about him. But at the very end after you’ve successfully navigated weeks’ worth of puzzles, you revisit that scene from a different perspective and unless the dog’s been fed…you die. Ha ha. Ho ho.)

(Yes, it still stings.)

The difference here is that the price of such innocent ignorance is a server that just flat-out stops working eventually, or which is useful only as a way of moving terabytes of credit-card numbers through Nigeria, the Sudan, and ultimately the Russian mafia without my knowledge or being cut in for a piece of the action. I deem this as not acceptable.

I don’t think Media Temple can be blamed for being so tough to use at this level of service. If I complained that I couldn’t install WordPress until I’d created my management account and then created a “client” account that would “own” that directory and then had to manage permissions through two levels of abstraction, all they needed to do was silently tap on a little sign behind the counter reading “Most People Who Sign Up For This Service Know What The Hell They’re Doing.”

In fact, if you own your own server (even a virtual one) you want as little “help” as possible. We come back to that new car stereo I want. My chief motivation is my escalating frustration at my factory tape deck’s auto-reverse feature. I’m in the middle of a really keen podcast when the deck arbitrarily decides to flip to the “other side” of the cassette adapter, forcing me to punch a button if I want to continue to hear the show.

“Just…do…NOTHING!” I shout. Yes, at an inanimate object but look, it’s frustrating as hell. “If you do NOTHING and make NO decisions on your own, you would be functioning PERFECTLY. And I would not now be whacking you furiously with this empty glass IBC root beer bottle.”

And that’s what server owners want. Just a bare structure that they can build out on their own.

Me? I have filled up a five gallon bucket with Wisdom and Experience and now it’s slopping over and getting my sneakers all wet. I am now very very very ready to downgrade to a level of service in which I can push a big green button labeled “Make Blog Start Now.”

Fortunately, Media Temple does indeed have that kind of service, and it’s affordable. I’m fairly sure that their Grid Service will give me the ease of management that I crave and the power for future expansion that I want, while handling the rare Slashdotting and Farking with dignity.

I hope.

Well, let’s see.

So! All of this is by way of announcing that there’ll be some downtime coming soon. And not of the “my host is excruciatingly slow” variety. I mean of the “the DNS change is moving through the system” and “I’m migrating the old database” kinds. I’ve been using Feedburner for CWOB’s RSS feed, so if things work according to plan, your Google Reader and Bloglines (etc) subscriptions should continue to work.

Remember, you can always check in with me on Flickr and Twitter, or what the hell, just pipe me an email. If you can spell my last name correctly and follow that triumph with an “at” symbol and then the Gmail domain, your email will find its way to my inbox.

Fingers crossed. I’ll set this in motion in a couple of days, after this post has had time to populate.

Then it’s time to push the button, Frank…

17 thoughts on “Downtime, followed by lots and lots of uptime!

  1. jason

    on the hosting front, i have had nothing but good times with they also have a hilarious blog.

    as for car stereos, my wifes car stereo died and i replaced it with one (with ipod connectivity) from a great resource! you put in the make and model of your car, and it will tell you what stereo’s will fit and what won’t. and if you pay more than 129.99 (which i paid exactly that!) you get a ton of stuff free, wiring harness that you get to solder (fun!), antenna cable, and tools to take out your old radio. I highly suggest hitting up their site to help in your research. Oh, and if you have any troubles while installing the radio, you just call them up on their 800 number and they’ll walk you through it.

  2. Victor

    As you have said, Good is good enough (a paraphrase, I know). So what exactly is wrong with your current hosting solution?

  3. Tim harness

    Wal – Mart’s start at $79, but any needed adapters are extra. It would’ve been nearly more than my previous car was worth.

  4. Tina Marie

    There are many things in life it is best not to own yourself. Tools you’ll only use once or twice a year, like snow blowers, car ramps, that thingy for compressing valve springs, and so on, should be borrowed from the neighbor when you need them. A given neighborhood can happily share one set of car ramps with very few scheduling problems, so why would you need to buy your own? You just need to find the guy in your neighborhood who has them, buy him a beer once in a while, and they can remain in his garage taking up his space.

    A server in a data center is exactly like that. You don’t want to own one of your own. You want to have a friend who owns one. That person can tell you “Oh, you’re setting up WordPress? Don’t forget to set up and provision the mySQL account first!”. Your friend is probably running the server because they like running a server, in the same way the guy with the ramps likes going out in his garage and looking at his Stuff. They probably have more capacity then they can even begin to use, and will happily share just because they can. You’ll have to put up with the occasional conversation about the new really cool security technology they’ve installed, but mostly that just requires you to nod and smile until they’re finished.

    It’s the perfect solution – a higher level of service then you’d get from a hosting provider, for less money.

    Now, if you don’t mind, I have a kernel patch to apply. See, there’s this local exploit that just got announced yesterday…

  5. Chilly

    Just make sure it has room for the Thing Your Aunt Gave You That You Don’t Know What Is.

  6. kevan from california

    Mr. Andy Ihnatko, please let me be the first to tell you that this post is officially awesome. I have never once considered it appropriate to use roughly 1300 words to say “I’m changing hosts, and oh yeah, my stereo sucks”, but I can now see that I was wrong.

    You sir, win the Internetz.

  7. Robert Thomas

    Dear Internationally Beloved Technology Pundit,

    I hope the hosting and stereo issues are resolved to your
    satisfaction, but here’s something to cheer you up:
    Part 1 of 6 of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.
    Also Goon Show on Mondays.


  8. zacksback

    Thank you Robert Thomas for providing a bright, golden nugget of joy in this otherwise life-as-a-barnyard space.

  9. Moeskido

    My compliments on your Flip Mino review. All the informative entertainment of David Pogue, with far more spontaneity and none of the NYT navigation inconvenience.

    I have no need of one of these cameras, but I’m on the verge of lobbying for its necessity with the wife.

  10. Damian Sol

    I have been through this maze of no-fun-ness myself in the past year as VPS after VPS has ceased to function. Getting kicked around the ‘technical’ ‘support’ call center like Beckham’s soccer ball is no fun either. And the least fun of all is fielding questions such as these from one’s less-technical boss:

    “Why didn’t anyone tell me that the max_clients setting should be 200 and not 10?”

    “Why didn’t anyone tell me that I would run out of inodes? And what the hell is an inode anyway?”

    As Tina Marie so aptly wrote, anyone who is running servers is probably doing so because it’s fun for their twisted brain. For the rest of us, the magical phrase ‘managed hosting’ becomes a redefined holy grail.

    Much luck to you, good sir, in your quest.

  11. foolery

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this because, even though I wouldn’t know a DNS change if it bit me in the a-ha-ha-application, I DO understand “Make Blog Start Now” quite well, and was easily able to follow your colorful visuals. Thank you. I’m now going back to my cheap motel to scrounge around for a cheese sandwich.

    — Laurie

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