Friday, February 23, 2007

A Web Host Bill of Rights

Like many small businesses, my company (Pacific Data Works) contracts web-hosting to a third party. Actually third parties. We have two websites, one hosted at LunarPages the other at (formerly called Interland). Our main site and mail server is at Interland.

Two days ago, suffered a massive "facilities" problem that for 10 hours shut down not only hosted accounts like ours, but itself. The company's own website was off the air.
Because of this problem, all e-mails sent to us and to other companies hosted at were bounced back as undeliverable.

Everyone understands that grave things can happen in which web-hosting services are compromised, but I don't understand what happened next: nothing. sent out no notice to customers that they might have lost e-mails or apologizing for the inconvenience. I don't care about the apology although it would be nice, but I do care about not finding out about bounced emails until I started receiving word from correspondents who were surprised their e-mails to us were rejected.

LunarPages suffered a day-long black-out last year due to a power problem in their host building. They didn't notify anyone either, but they did place a long mea-culpa on their official blog, explaining the problem. However, their website still advertises that they are down less than 9 hours a year.

I think it is about time for a Bill of Rights for customer of Web hosters. At minimum:

  • Web hosts should notify customers when the Web site has been unavailable for more than 4 hours.
  • Web hosts should notify customers when e-mail service has been down for any period in which incoming emails were bounced back.
  • Web hosts must post accurate information about outages on their website. An outage is defined as any period of time in which more than 20% of hosted accounts are not available.
  • All outages should be fully explained as to the nature of the problem and what is being done to make sure it will not recur.
  • Web hosts should refund the pro-rated share of hosting fees for outages automatically.

I think that's a good start.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Languages and compilation speed

Yesterday, I went to visit Electric Cloud, a company that provides a suite of tools for building large applications, including a build manager and a distributed make system. While I was there I met the CEO, John Ousterhout, the designer of Tcl/Tk. He made an interesting observation about large compilations: in visits to customers with large codebases to compile, they had found that C++ code compiled the slowest, next was C, while Java was the fastest mainstream language to compile. The position of C++ does not surprise me, but Java being faster than C did--although, to be honest, I'd never given the matter much thought.

Because this discussion was a branch off the main topic, I didn't get to pursue it further, but Ousterhout did attribute it in passing to the efficiency of Java compilers. Without more info, though, I'm not sure I'm convinced that it's a question of compiler efficiency. I suspect that not needing to generate native code is a big factor, as is the simplified linking step.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Virtualization Slides

I gave a pair of talks today at InfoWorld's Virtualization Executive Forum. One was pure lecture, the other a panel. The lecture (on the variety of uses of virtualization in IT) in particular was well attended. It seems managers correctly sense that there's a lot more you can do with virtualization than desktop code verification and server consolidation. Here are the slides from the lecture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What Today's DNS Attack Looked Like

As you might have read in the press today, a group of hackers tried to take down the domain name system (DNS), which is a key component of the Internet. They did this by flooding two of the top level DNS servers with requests. This picture, provided by Ripe.Net, shows the attack in full swing.

On the left are numbers 1-13, which refer to the 13 top-level DNS servers. They handle DNS requests from lower-level servers that cannot resolve a particular DNS address. As can be seen, two of the servers were targeted simultaneously in an attack that lasted several hours.

For readers who aren't familiar with DNS, it's the service that translates URLs into actual numerical addresses (which is how the Internet actually runs). So, for example, is translated by a DNS server into Knock out the servers that do this translation and you can only get to sites via their numerical IP addresses.

Fortunately, these 13 top-level DNS servers are redundant, so all this attack did was to slow some Internet/Web queries. However, if all 13 had been attacked, things would have become quite serious.