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Why cheap hosting services are so cheap

kief  2006-05-27 17:43     

Why would someone pay £500 per month for a server when they could pay less than £100 from a different provider? The short answer is support. But it's a more complicated story than that.

One of my clients had a key server die this week, one of many they have with a cheap hosting provider. After investigating a bit, it was clear that it was not a system error - I was briefly able to examine the system logs using the provider's web based recovery tool, with no evidence of problems, but then the server stopped responding even to the tool.

So I called support. The first-line support guy verified that the machine wasn't responding and couldn't be recovered with the online tool, so he referred it to engineering at the data center.

However, he couldn't tell me when they would investigate the issue. It depends on how busy they are. With a real hosting provider, you get an SLA that includes response times. You also get someone who will communicate with you, to make you feel like they're on the case. I only got the promise that I would get an email when it was fixed, no direct contact, no phone call.

In the end it took three hours for them to fix the server. This isn't an unreasonable amount of time, given the cost of the service, but during those three hours my client decided that the three new servers they had decided to add that very morning should be gotten from another provider instead. They'll probably end up paying five times the price, but they know they'll get better support.

The key point here isn't that the service was poor. They fixed the problem fairly quickly. It isn't even just that they could not promise a response time - with thousands of customers paying less than a hundred pounds a month, they can't afford to make guarantees.

But even a cheap and cheerful support organisation should have a way to give updates on their progress, even if it is just via semi-automated emails. Let me know when your engineers have started investigating the problem. Let me know when they've identified the cause, and when they've fixed it.

The frosting with these guys came when they sent the form-email that the problem was fixed. I replied, asking if they could tell me what went wrong. The reply came the next day: look at your server logs.

That's lame. That's passing the buck. It's not in the server logs, because it's not an OS problem. Hard booting didn't fix the issue, and whatever did fix it didn't involve changing any configuration files or such on the server. So it was a hardware or network issue of some kind.

I guess I'll never know. And I guess I'll never use these guys again.

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