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Idol Blogger Crashes Server and Teaches us a Lesson about Hosting

Posted By Darren Rowse 24th of May 2006 Pro Blogging News 0 Comments

I just came across a story that makes me quite angry but also has an important lesson in it for bloggers on shared servers. It concerns the story of idolbloglive.com – a blog about Amercian Idol.

As you’d expect with a blog on the topic of American Idol it’s a blog that has had a bit of traffic in the last week or so (the grand final is tomorrow).

Unfortunately for it’s owner (djslim) his hosting provider suspended his account saying that he had crashed their server and is virtually holding his content ransom. He writes, “The only way to come back online or to retrieve the files is to upgrade my account which costs $110.00 a month.”

From what I can discern having spoken with one of djslim’s associates – the server apparently ‘crashed’ when it peaked at about 3500 page views in an hour from about 500 visitors (see graph below). I’m not sure what server from a professional hosting company crashes with a load of 500 visitors but thats what the host reported.

At that point the host (Surpass Hosting) of the site switched the hosting off without any warning and is refusing to allow access even to retrieve files. Obviously this blog had ‘surpassed’ what it’s host would allow (sorry – couldn’t resist).

I get angry when I hear of hosts switching off account without warning and holding content ransom in this way.

Having said that this is a good warning for bloggers to check into their hosts before signing up both to read their contract see what the limits are in terms of bandwidth but also what the host does when those limits are reached. It’s also a pretty good argument for dedicated hosting instead of shared hosting and for backing up your files along the way.

D  5 23 2006 Idolslim

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Yeh, I had a brief flirtation with Surpass… they were absolutely rubbish.

  2. Every month I push the limit of my host. Fortunatly, it’s run by my friends. Nonetheless, it freaks them out at how many gigs per month that gets uploaded.

  3. I think finding a good reliable host is one of the critical success factors for anyone with a web-site (blog or otherwise). This isn’t an easy task. In my experience about 19 out of 20 hosting companies are flakes.

    Ask a friend… or look up the whois information for a decent sized site in your market. Often the name servers will lead you to the host they use.

    Also, if you have more than one site… I always recommend spreading your eggs out into more than one basket. There is no rule that says that all of your sites need to be hosted with the same company. It feels a lot better when you are dealing with a flaky host when you know that most of your sites are still up… and you are only dealing with some fraction of your total online portfolio with that one flaky host.

    -James Brausch

  4. […] Darren writes over at Problogger about the experience of the owner of a blog by the title of idolbloglive with the hosting company Surpass Hosting, who cut the blog off with no warning because of a spike in traffic, and who now demand $110 a month to reinstate the site and give the blogger access to his files again. […]

  5. Oh ! This is so bad, I got 1001 stories about hosting but never seen this ! this should be at least mentionned in the Terms and Conditions of Surpass Hosting, but unfortunately I can’t find if they have a link.

  6. Just plain wrong. The ethics on the internet are at an all-time low.

    I would hope soon quality companies rise to the top.

  7. This really pisses me off, as well to hear this. Especially after just going off on two GoDaddy representatives yesterday for the crappy customer service they provide and the sarcasm that seems to plague Bob’s employees.

    First, any business owner with half a brain would have viewed this situation as a good PR opportunity. If I were Surpass Hosting, I would have done a little background investigation on this customer. In doing so, I would have learned that this blog is all about American Idol and that means millions of potential viewers of this blog.

    Why not contact the customer as a courtesy about the excess bandwidth usage. If the customer was unable to cover the cost, I would have negotiated a deal for ad space on the blog or better yet… SPONSOR THE BLOG! Now that’s good PR, but hey… that’s just me.

    Either way, the last thing I would have done was cut this person off. So this is how they treat their customers…? Is that right? I say everyone who reads this post mention Surpass Hosting as a “Bad Choice” for business. I have no patience for bad business and these people definitely made a poor judgement call. The fact that they will not even allow this person to retrieve the content makes it worse. Who are these people? Are they complete noobs at business and web hosting?

    I now put Surpass Hosting in the same category as GoDaddy for Customer Support… CRAP.

    But again… that’s just me.

  8. I had the same thing happen to me. My webhost (hasweb.com aka hostdime.com) took down my site without warning. They claimed my site was taking too much of the server load and said they wouldn’t put me back online unless i switched to a plan that was US$1100/year. I just switched hosts to dreamhost. It was a hassle, but so far so good. I wrote a little more about it on my blog.

  9. […] via Darren Thanks Darren for the heads up so we can help this fellow blogger and also not support this host. We need ethical companies on the net. […]

  10. Blogs can put more strain on a host than traffic alone may suggest – WordPress for example is quite hungry in terms of the MySQL database usage. Maybe their MySQL wasn’t up to the job.

    I’ve briefly looked at their allowances and whilst their not huge, they should be able to cope with what is still moderate traffic.

    Holding content to ransom is appalling behaviour. Maybe they are a 1-bit operation on shared accounts themselves (it does happen) and have no grace period.

    As this was likely a one-off peak (until the next American Idol which ‘Surpass’ ain’t gonna see as hopefully this site will be on a decent service provider) it should’ve been managed for what it was – a spike in traffic than any site can have (wish for).

    If it looked like it was going to be permanent, then sure, an upgrade is required – but you don’t hold people’s data to ransom over it.

    Lessons: take and keep offline backups. Go with the best hosting you can afford from the outset. See what the ‘type’ of provider is (my providers are basically developers who love all things blog and web 2.0 so they cut some slack, they boast about handling slashdotting ‘attacks’, yeah they’ll kick off someone doing 200 MySQL queries every second or running a cron job every minute, but they’re very reasonable…)

    Hosts need to understand the fluctuations of blogs and similar sites – one day you can be Mr Nobody, the next you’re being linked to by everyone.

  11. “Surpass Hosting can provide you with limitless opportunity to grow”

    LOL – that’s my first laugh of the day.

  12. Hmmm. What a load of rubish… My provider asked me to move to a dedicated server when one day we had 300,000 pages served – in three hours. I guess this hosting provider in the post would be completely dead then?

  13. Like Andy said why no backups ? In commercial environments the rule is no live production changes, play in development and promote to production. Anyway, I had never visited idolbloglive but I can only speculate that it would have been receiving high traffic = $$$$.

    Faced with the situation, DJ should have paid for 1 month so as not to lose much revenue/traffic and start migrating to another provider and fight the battle later. Of course if DJ is a 16 year old with not much business experience (s)he may have been too shocked to rationale.

    May the backups be with you !

  14. Guide yourself before getting hosted … you can go to WHT (webhostingtalk.com forums) or read all that is wrote on whreviews.com
    Btw, I’m changing hosts next month.

  15. that’s terrible.
    I guess he should get himself a dedicated server instead.
    Don’t get the shared hosting package, especially with that kind content :p
    Lucky I got myself sponsored for the hosting service. Haha!

  16. hm, a server crashes with 3500 pageviews an hour? what a company…
    however, what I can’t stand more than their server issues is, that the guy couldn’t access his file after the server was “taken down”. They should fix their server and not let their customers pay for nothing…

  17. That’s just terrible.

    I’m also running an American Idol blog (for two months already) and you’re right– it has a considerable amount of traffic, especially this week. When I was hosting my videos and mp3s, there was an exceed in my bandwith limit that tempted the admin of my server to temporary suspend my account. What I did was, I hosted my media separately so right now I have like 4 servers for my blogs.

    I sometimes go to DJSlim’s blog to read about what’s the latest on A.I. So sorry to hear that his blog bagged down during the AI Finale.

  18. I put together a blog post on web hosting titled “Why A Reliable, Hassle Free Web Hosting Service Is Important”
    Read it at http://internet.findingsdirect.com/2006/05/23/why-a-reliable-hassle-free-web-hosting-service-is-important/

  19. I hope slim can at least get his content back. I expect that there might be some reasonable grounds for legal action

  20. That’s a very sad story. Personally if it would have happened to me i would consider immediate legal actions against this company, it may be a very big burden, but when some ruins your dreams, revenge is essential.


  21. Weblog-Talk: Tipps zum Web-Hosting & vorausschauender Planung

    [Weblog-Talk] Viel Hosting-Leistung – wenig Geld. Diese Wunschvorstellung geht bei Webprojekten nur bis zu einem bestimmten Punkt auf. Dynamische Planung und Anpassung des Hostings schafft mehr Flexibilität und vermeidet langfristig Probleme. &Uu…

  22. Not the first time I have heard about something like this, and the holding the files and content ransom, that gets me.

    Does anyone know about the laws?, I mean holding someones files / data which is not their own on ransom?

  23. this really sucks, but on the other hand it’s still very common. i have experiences with many webhostings and lot of them act like this – they place your website on shared server with hundreds of other websites and when you get some traffic, they stop or even delete your site, often without bigger notice. that’s very sad and it shows on the lameness of these hosting providers. it’s very good idea to stick with well known hostinf companies and always have personal (icq, msn, phone) contact to solve problems like this immediatelly after they appear…

  24. I can see here that almost none of the commentors nor Darren himself have any concept of running a business by the book. It is really sad to think that people consider themselves “pros” but don’t have any understanding of how the business market works.

    If you’re paying less than US$100 per month for hosting, you’re using a shared hosting service. I have not found ONE co-located (your hardware, your IP address, your bandwidth) hosting company that is cheaper (other than a few dollars, maybe). Read the shared hosting agreement, you know that thing you clicked “I agree” to? It says that your service can be interrupted at any time, especially in situations when you LEAST want it to go down.

    What did this guy lose? Seriously. He paid for CHEAP SERVICE, folks. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. If you rely on your website for your income, don’t get shared hosting, don’t get a virtual server and don’t complain when neither works.

    For the guy(s) complaining about GoDaddy — I’ve used them for _years_ and I’m extremely happy. A few months ago one of my shared hosting accounts was crashing during a lot of MySQL hits, and I talked to GoDaddy. They said that their shared hosting doesn’t support a ton of MySQL access but the most basic “family use” access. I asked some techie friends and they agreed — don’t share databases and servers. Duh!

    This is a completely ridiculous argument and the topic’s webmaster is wrong to try to run a business like an amateur. He got what he deserved by being irresponsible to his customers (his readers) and his employees (himself?). If you invest in junk and run a business like junk, you’ll get shut down fairly quick. That is how the free market works, and I am extremely glad that things like this happen — it corrects the market for those willing to work hard for their dollar rather than another fly-by-night get-rich-quick scam.

    Here’s a good one:

    I get angry when I hear of hosts switching off account without warning and holding content ransom in this way.

    Umm, he never backed it up? Providers are not responsible for your data on a shared host. They’re not responsible for your bandwidth. They’re not responsible for uptime or access or anything, not when you elect to throw your website into a pile of thousands of other websites. If you run a business in a kiosk building and don’t lock your doors and inventory up, don’t expect it to be there in the morning.

  25. In my opinion the host service should have contacted the user first to advise of the issue. Pulling the plug and refusing to allow access is just plain childish!

    Maybe your next poll could be about which hosting providers people use?

  26. […] Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger reports on the case of a blogger’s hosting account being suspended for crashing their server – with 500 visitors! From what I can discern having spoken with one of djslim’s [the blogs owner – ed] associates – the server apparently ‘crashed’ when it peaked at about 3500 page views in an hour from about 500 visitors (see graph below). I’m not sure what server from a professional hosting company crashes with a load of 500 visitors but that’s what the host reported. […]

  27. A.B. Dada – I’m not sure anyone is argueing that the blogger is totally not at fault – obviously when you sign a contract you need to look at what you’re signing and be aware of the implications. In fact if you read my post fully you’ll see that I say that this is one consequence of cheap shared hosting. I guess you get what you pay for to some level.

    Having said that – I think the host has done the wrong thing by cutting the guy off with no warning or without giving him a chance to upgrade before cutting him off and particularly is wrong by saying he can’t have his files back unless he resigns – that to me is one step away from blackmail.

    I agree that he should have backed up and is paying for not doing that but the fact remains that a host that won’t even allow one of their users to retrieve their data after they’ve been unexpectedly cut off seems like poor form for me.

    I’m not sure we need to get into attacking each other over whether our comments show that we have business sense or not – I wrote this post with the express desire of hoping that it would make bloggers think about their business practices (ie looking into their hosting before signing up and considering paying for a higher level) – to me that’s good business practice.

    I also hoped it would shed some light on a practice by some hosts that I think is bad business practice.

  28. I’m not attacking you or using an perjoratives that say you’re not a smart guy, but from the emotional responses today it is obvious that the topic should be covered from a purely business standpoint.

    I can appreciate that you probably did NOT intend to prove emotional responses (though it doesn’t seem that way necessarily), but it is also wise to realize that readers will LIKELY become emotional in their reactions. Suggesting too many solutions would cut back on the back-and-forth banter that comes from the great conversations here, but it would also help to reduce the emotions of people who want to be professionals. The first thing a professional should chop out is an emotional response before a logical one.

    Your second to last paragraph is important to highlight because without it, it would seem like you were part of the cacophony of complaints rather than a guy who wants to honestly cause people to think about what they’d do in these situations, so I apologize if I came across as harsh (I, too, was trying to cause a stir of anti-emotions by those who didn’t think through their responses). My intent is to make sure people are professionals, not children. The host did exactly what they were paid to do — notifications are not cheap, especially since it adds another layer of culpability if they do not send a notification of suspended service.

  29. I also use the Dreamhost shared server plan, and while their mysql server really doesn’t stand up too well under heavy load (i did have problems when I was using dynamic page builds on MT), if most of your pages are static, they probably offer more bandwidth and disk space for your money that any other provider. And while I can’t attest to how the server would handle really massive traffic, I’ve received up to 275k page views in a day with no problems. They also have a nice referral scheme.

  30. @A.B.Dada: most people who do business without emotions are out of their business very soon…

  31. curious says: 05/25/2006 at 12:25 am

    Can a wb-savvyperson explain how he was able to get the page up that announced the site was down (http://www.brentnatzle.com/down.htm) and which has a donation link….? go to the root (http://www.brentnatzle.com/) and you get a page that says the account was suspended… Just curious.

  32. holch: I think you need to love your business, but emotional responses won’t convince me when this is an obvious contract question. Did the contract that he signed warn him of this possibility? It did. Read the TOS agreement at the host and the words are plain as day that most of their basic hosting services are REALLY low quality. How anyone can think that a $10 or $20 a month hosting plan is for a business is beyond me.

    curious: When a customer goes over his agreed bandwidth in a given time frame, the hosting company will transfer his server internally to one of their servers displaying the error messages. That means there is nothing you can do to fix it unless you have total control over your DNS servers. I run DNS for most of my sites on another server with another provider. If my main provider has a problem, I can quickly change my DNS entries to point to a backup server, and most users will get this switchover fairly quickly. Some of my DNS entries even reflect a second IP address of the backup server, which I can change to say “Main server is down, you’re viewing an archive” sort of thing.

    I’ve run businesses for almost 20 years and I would never run a business without a backup plan. If this is a hobby, who cares? If it is your bread and butter, don’t be cheap.

  33. I’m not sure if I’m happy or unhappy about being able to contribute to this topic…

    I’ve had two experiences. One very bad. The other, not quite as bad.

    iPowerweb took me offline without warning and refused to bring me back on unless I agreed to take the blogs offline. The blogs ARE my website. They refused to consider reinstating me EVEN after I pinpointed the problem being a DoS attack.

    I had another domain with Dreamhost so I was able to move to the fairly quickly. I’d only had the domain there for a bit over a month before they told me I was over limit on ‘CPU Minutes’. This hidden limitation drives me crazy since they have all kinds of claims for unlimited bandwidth etc and make NO mention of cpu minutes in the terms of reference.

    Two pieces of advice:

    1) I strongly recommend people not register their domain with their hosting company because doing so can really tie your hands in terms of making a quick clean break from a host.

    2) When searching for a new host, don’t search for ‘hosting reviews’ or something like that because all you’ll get is garbage information designed on referral systems. Search using the name of the host you are investigating + ‘sucks’. If you use that search term, you’ll quickly be able to see what real people are saying about a hosting company.

    Thanks Darren. You rock.

  34. As someone who is looking to move from blogger to a “real” host soon, this whole conversation is very timely. I think the idea of a “Hosting poll” is a great one and would be especially useful to anyone looking at making a switch.

    Thanks to all for the great info here.

  35. Darren please give us some advice about picking a hosting company. I have found it extremely hard to find one that I feel comfortable with. Someone had mentioned in the comments about doing a poll on which hosting service you use. A poll might be helpful.

    I would love to hear some stories about people that have had a post put on slashdot or digg and survived the bandwidth demand. Since I’m just starting I’m interested in a shared hosting plan. Anybody ever had a shared hosting plan that survived the digg effect?

  36. I am on Dreamhost and have no problems. I did lot of research while moving from Blogger to WordPress. Though no web host is perfect, Dreamhost is the better one on the horizon.

  37. I’m on cheap shared hosting where the host did the same thing to a friend of mine.

    This makes me nervous and I want to move but finding a decent host is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack!

    I have got some tricks up my sleeve should it happen to me and maybe others should consider them as well.

    I have my domain with another company so it can be moved in a few hours if required and then I run wp-cron plugin which emails me a backup every 24 hours. Ok, so I may loose a post or two but they ain’t going to hold me to ransom!

  38. I just moved to dedicated hosting two weeks ago, BEFORE a problem like this happens to me! And I’m actually only paying $84/month for it.

    As for shopping for hosting, skip EVERYONE on Page 1 of the SERPs, and most everyone on Page 2. You can be sure they all suck in vastly different ways.

  39. The Dreamhost blog has just featured a couple of relevant posts – Web Hosting’s Dirty Laundry, about sites that ‘review’ hosting providers, and The Truth About Overselling, which explains a bit more about how cheap hosting providers work.

  40. Maybe it comes from being on the Internet very early, when things were much less stable, but I’ve always maintained religious backup habits, and always act on the assumption that my host could disappear at any moment.

    I have two dedicated servers and I still keep this policy, it’s saved me once or twice. If my server has a hardware problem I can get another server running right away and upload the data from home.

    You can never go wrong if you follow a few simple rules:

    1. Keep a current copy of all HTML/CSS/PHP/etc files on your local machine.
    2. Run daily backups of MySQL data and download them daily.
    3. Backup server configuration files (my.cnf, php.ini, http.conf, etc.) whenever you change them. Download them to a local machine.
    4. Backup your local machine daily too.
    5. Never, ever, ever use the same company as both host and domain name registrar.
    6. If possible, keep DNS on a separate server from your web host. I use Register.com’s DNS for my major sites.
    7. Keep enough money on hand in a credit or debit card to set up a new hosting account. If you need to change hosts quickly, you won’t want to wait until payday or until a bank transfer goes through.

  41. Anonymous For Obvious Reasons says: 05/25/2006 at 8:34 am

    I use Surpass, mainly because their reseller accounts are so cheap with decent bandwidth and disk space limits. I understand the risks of using a cheap hosting provider, but none of my web sites generate enough profit to warrant “moving on up” to a higher-quality host.

    To mitigate the risk of something like this happening to me, I make regular backups of all my sites and am ready to whip out the credit card and switch to another provider immediately if things go pear-shaped.

    Surpass seems to cram as many sites as they can onto their servers (obviously that’s what allows them to keep costs down). If one site gets Slashdotted or DoSed or hacked or something, it affects everyone else on the same server. My sites go down intermittently maybe a couple of times a year because of other sites’ problems.

    In this situation, Surpass probably makes the best move they can – take the offending site offline so all the other customers can keep running, and then figure out what is going wrong. I expect they’d give this guy access to retrieve his files etc at some point even if he doesn’t pay more, but for now it’s probably still in the hands of the cheap Indians Surpass outsources their ‘customer service’ to.

    Another problem you’ll get with shared servers is when someone else gets reported for spamming. Your IP address will then end up in spam blacklists all over the place, and your outgoing emails start bouncing. You need to have a contingency plan in place (e.g. a gmail account) in case that happens.

    Oh, and to minimise the chance that you’ll get accused of using too many ‘CPU minutes’ or hogging resources, install one of the WordPress caching plugins. That’ll greatly reduce the number of SQL queries your site runs, especially if you’re getting tons of traffic to just a few specific articles.

    Summary: Go with cheap shared hosting, especially at the start when you’re not making money. Understand the risks and mitigate them with regular backups and contingency plans. Once your site’s income becomes significant, move to a better host (but keep those plans on hand – even if it’s less likely, bad things can still happen!).

  42. The jump from shared hosting to dedicated server is pretty big and you’ve either got to love your hobby or be making some return on the AdSense :)
    VPS is a good in-between option. With dedicated resources, there’s none of the problems associated with shared hosting and although it will run slower under heavier loads than a full-blown server it is considerably cheaper.
    Most VPS hosts also offer easy upgrade paths to dedicated servers making a progression as you grow (traffic + income) pretty painless.

  43. […] In the comments on this post, over at ProBlogger, a discussion is raging about how an American Idol blog site has been turned off, without notice, because it exceeded it’s bandwidth/server limits. […]

  44. Well I learned my lesson and am taking every comment and suggestion everyone made here to heart. I screwed up using shared hosting but I am happy to report the site is back online at this time thanks to some nice emails and nasty emails to my host. Bottom line is I learned my lesson and am back online.

  45. My daughter had one of her sites shut dowm in the same manner for almost the exact same usage.

    500 people online and about 3500 page views in a short time.

    I only had one choice….I bought her a dedicated server to host her site @ http://www.katharine-mcphee.net.

    Shared hosting’s okay for a sales letter site and a blog that only get a couple hundered pageviews a day.

  46. Chris
    VPS isn’t a bad stepping stone, and you can get some pretty good offers out there, but I find the risk is similar to shared hosting (in my experience anyway) that you are often crammed onto a box with others and hence the risk is high.
    At the end of the day, you cant beat a dedicated box for security, and they are getting cheaper, you can find dedicated boxes these days for as little as $50-$60 per month. If you were making even $100 a month from Adsense (and nothing else) I’d recommend one, because if you want to grow to higher figures you need the infrastructure to support you, and shared hosting in most cases is a time bomb waiting to go off.

  47. there should be Service Level Agreement (SLA), between the 2 parties.

  48. Can a wb-savvyperson explain how he was able to get the page up that announced the site was down (http://www.brentnatzle.com/down.htm) and which has a donation link….? go to the root (http://www.brentnatzle.com/) and you get a page that says the account was suspended… Just curious.

    Yeah very simple I bought the domain name and hosting from seperate people as mentioned in the comments by someone and when they shut down my hosting, I put up a down page on another hosting account and redirected my domain name to that page.

  49. I forgot to mention that the root http://www.brentnatzle.com redirects also to a blog that was on the hosting account that was cancelled

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