Downtime is Scary

When you own a site, one of the scariest sights in the world is a blank page where your page should actually be, when you try to pull up your site and realize that nothing works. Today I had that kind of an experience.

This morning started like most: I sat down at my computer, opened Flock (a Firefox-based Web browser), typed “www.gnorb.net” in the URL bar, hit Enter, then waited…

…and waited…

…and waited.

Crap. The site’s being slow again, I thought. “Sigh.”

I looked at the status bar at the bottom of the browser and saw “Waiting for ‘www.gnorb.net’…” That’s not good. Shouldn’t I at least see blue by now?

It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while this site gets seriously, massively slow. The problem here is that there are two types of slow. The first is the type where the background loads, then on-page components like the header images and text take an eternity to load. The second is where the page doesn’t respond, so it looks like the site’s down.

This was the second type, and I, as usual, started freaking out.

Oh shyte, I thought. Is this “the big one?” I could feel my heart pumping faster. I kept clicking the Stop/Reload button on the browser, hoping that it was just a snag, that my site was just fine and that the problem was from my end.

I checked CNN, Fark, and Google. All were there, meaning it wasn’t a problem with me. Crap.

Seconds which seemed to last hours passed. The site still didn’t come up. Stop, reload, wait… stop, reload, wait… stop, reload, wait…

Stepping back for a second, here’s a little perspective to keep in mind: This site is (proudly) hosted by Nebekh Omnimedia, which is run by an old friend of mine (you could almost say “war buddy”), Nate. Nate, who currently works as the system administrator for a local software company and is back in school for yet another degree, has been Gnorb.NET’s host and chief system admin since its humble beginnings all the way back in late 2003/early 2004, I forget which. (Come to think of it, Gnorb.NET is still “humble.”)

To be honest, I’ve never had any reason to doubt Nate’s administrative abilities, ever. When it comes to system administration, he’s extremely good. Whenever there’s been a problem he’s never been more than an email away, and usually takes care of problems in minutes. In fact, while with Nate I’ve had a 99.9% (or better) uptime. Not bad for a service that has cost me a total of nothing over the past couple of years. Not bad at all. (Understatement? Yeah, I think so.)

Still, like every other time technology hick-ups, I freaked out. It’s like turbulence on an airplane: I know its coming, but when it does, end-of-the-world thoughts come to mind. Within a couple of minutes of stopping and reloading thoughts about my backups and how I could get back up again quickly began racing through my head. I wasn’t quite panicking (I hadn’t yet emailed Nate), but my secret little techno-hypochondriac, my own personal cyber-doom-seer started to come out.

Is the server down? Did it explode? Is the database ok? Was my site hacked?! Given all the evidence I figured the site wasn’t hacked. Still, this wasn’t good.

Instinctively I went over to my WordPress.com experiment, GnorbX. It’s where I go to whenever something happens to this site and I feel like I need to write, or whenever I feel like I want to show someone online but don’t want to bring them (or put it up) here. Mostly, it’s there because I was really curious about WordPress.com and what it had to offer. (A lot more than Google’s Blogger, that’s what it has to offer.)

Thoughts about the possibility of moving Gnorb.NET to WordPress came to mind, as they usual do in times like this. As soon as I logged in, I started to remember why I haven’t done that. The reasons are too many to list right now, but center around the lack of an ability to insert AdSense code or to modify the templates to look a bit less generic. (Sure there are a lot of themes, but I want my look, not some stamped-out duplicate, even if that means taking one of those duplicates and tweaking it a bit, like I’ve done here.) Besides, the Gnorb.NET “brand” has really grown on me, you know? And somehow “gnorb.wordpress.com” doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as easily as “Gnorb.NET”.

(Admittedly, “Gnorb” doesn’t roll off the tongue so much as it is torpedoed from the back of your throat unto your teeth and lips, but that’s beside the point.)

After again deciding against going that route, my thoughts turned back to Gnorb.NET. Maybe this is just a temporary glitch, I reasoned. It’s probably that. I again typed “www.gnorb.net” in the URL bar, hit Enter, then waited…

…and waited…

…and then there was blue.

Then white.

Then the header.

The site was back. A second later the rest of the site loaded in all its CSS and Kubrick glory. As I saw this my techno-hypochondriac started to fade away, quieted by the armies of rational thought who were just a few minutes before too quick to call it quits. Of course this was just a glitch, I thought. I knew that. Really. I didn’t overreact. I was being… prudent. Justification for your actions is almost always easy. It’s why we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.

Now that this was over — this three and a half minutes of shier, absolute horror — my day could finally start.

4 thoughts on “Downtime is Scary

  1. Scary indeed. =) Gnorb.net is hosted at Nebehk’s Edmonton, Alberta NOC. Which is leased from Tera-Byte.com, Inc. I’ve been doing business a long time with Tera-Byte since, the late 1990’s since they are incredibly responsive.

    I have almost 100% root access. =) There is one thing their hosting appliances don’t allow you to set the time manually or by using ntpdate. I was fussing at them about the time being 20 minutes off and they needed to reboot it to fix that. (Which is what I expect happened when you were looking at your site).

    Nate

  2. You know, until now I thought all this stuff was located in your house, just a few blocks from mine. Never did I guess (or case to see) that this site was hosted 3000+ miles away.

  3. Fort Lauderdale = Hurricanes
    Edmonton and Arizona = Snow and Dry Heat

    I used to host most of my sites from my apartment until Katrina. I got fed up and leased servers in Arizona. Just in time to laugh in the face of Wilma.

    I can’t say I miss the loud hum of Dell Poweredge servers in my bedroom either. Lol.

    Needless to say my “business” is more of a hobby that pays for itself. Income – Hosting expenses = Not much left over. Heh. But truly I love playing with technology it’s not about money for me.

    Nate

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