Sunday, March 28, 2010

WebHost4Life breaks FishWisePro web site for 12 days

FishWisePro is a web site that provides information on all known species of fish. It is published by the author of, Dennis Polack. I have been privileged to help Dennis by developing the web site pages that extract the data from a SQL database and display it for the user.
We chose WebHost4Life last year because they offered enough disk space and database space to support a large database such as this. Now they have "transitioned" the site to their "new platform" and predictably it doesn't work.
I visited the site today only to discover the site is completely blank. Fortunately the data upload is going according to schedule, because we reorganised the database structure, and I re-generated all the data support pages to match the structure a week ago. I wonder how long the site will be down this time?
Update 28 March (day 1): I logged ticket no 6883865 and called international long distance to the USA to their "support" number. So far all I have is the following boilerplate response:
Thank you for contacting Support.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
I have checked your website and I was able to duplicate the issue. I have asked a member of our team who specializes in website issue to review your account. You should be hearing from this specialists within 24-48 hours. If you have any questions in the meantime, please let us know and be sure to refer to the link for the quickest service.
Thank you for choosing WebHost4Life, we appreciate your support.
Bryan Smith
Customer Support
So basically they haven't admitted it but they have screwed up and now I must wait for 2 days for them to look into it. I'm willing to bet it takes longer than 48 hours.
Update Tuesday 30 March (day 3): as expected, the issue is not resolved, so I have changed the front page on the old platform in the hope of embarrassing them into changing to the new platform. My wife calls this "guerilla warfare". I call it revenge. As soon as they let me edit the files on the "new platform" I will be able to fix any errors, or at least tell them what's broken. Right now they are just wasting everyone's time.
Update Thursday (day 5): It's now 5 days since they stuffed it up, and finally we are on the new platform after much begging and pleading. Overnight they screwed up the site again, redirecting everything to a blank page. But at least now I have access to the files so I can repair the damage. The migration is 34 days late. Not bad for a 2-bit hosting company.
Friday 2 April, 14h20 SAST (day 6): I came in to the office to work on the web site (it's a public holiday in SA) and was greeted with an HTTP error 503. Basically that means the web server is broken. Last night the SQL Server was broken or flaky. Today its backup wizard doesn't work. They are obviously having a great time in the server room. I wonder how many days it will take to fix?
Update Saturday (day 7): According to ticket #6902824 the problem was resolved after 22 hours, but the site still isn't working. So now we have had to reopen the ticket. That means the site has been unusable for pretty much an entire week.
I'm not the conspiratorial sort, but I get suspicious about the slow progress in fixing these problems. Especially when they offer a special "Premium Support" option for an additional $29.95 per month. Read between the lines in this sales pitch:
All of your support will be delivered by a team of North American-based Premium Agents.
You'll have access to a customized online Support Console that you can use and route online requests to our Premium agents.
All of your requests will be expedited. So if your Premium Agent needs assistance fulfilling your request, our Tier II agents and Engineers will give it special priority.
Does that mean I'm not getting support from North American-based agents at present? Does it mean that "normal" support requests don't get priority? The usually say that I should expect a response within 24-48 hours, and in the "how did we do?" survey they ask if the problem was resolved within 72 hours.
What Makes a Premium Agent?
The most experienced agents, those with the longest tenure at WebHost4Life;
Agents with the highest internal quality scores, based on audits conducted by our Management Team;
Customer Favorites! Premium Agents consistently receive high customer-satisfaction ratings from customers like you.
In other words if you pay four times the "Advanced Hosting Plan" you get the "A" team who are not nearly as useless as the current "B" team. Spot the ripoff. Now there is talk of a class action lawsuit in the USA, and a community action group of current and past WebHost4Life customers.
Update Sunday (day 8): It is now 8 days since the site was transferred, and the "B" team still insists on trying to stuff up the site. I have finally fixed it myself. Hopefully they don't break anything else.
Wednesday 7th (day 9): The site is down again, and remained flaky the whole day. It either gave out partial pages or refused connections completely. I had to report the problem twice, because the first "help" chat agent refused to log the fault. Ticket #6918854 says they are still "researching" the problem. It took them 5 hours to start working on the issue.
Sunday 11 April (day 10): Site up and down again, refusing connections. Error page not working, stats not working. So far I have been in contact with their abysmal chat line 17 times in 2 weeks. Total time wasted: in excess of 24 working hours. Cost: at least $1200, excluding phone calls and bandwidth costs.
Monday 12 April (day 11): Site still refusing connections some of the time. I wasted 3 hours this morning trying to make a simple change to the site. It seems that there is some kind of delay between uploading the new pages and being able to see them. Stats seem to have been fixed. Error page is still broken. I chatted to a "sales" agent this afternoon and asked her the difference between the "old platform" and the "new platform". She got an error visiting the new platform. Theoretically it should be the same speed or faster than the old, but it isn't. Informal testing shows it to be 30% slower, if it works at all.
Update: one of their "Escalated Support" people said he was getting fast load times (within 1 sec) measured using a Firefox add-in called "lori". Here are my results:
"Old platform": Time to first byte: 5.8 sec, time to completion: 43.8 sec
"New platform": Time to first byte: 17 sec, time to completion: 63.9 sec. Depending on how you do the maths, that's anything from 45% to 193% slower on the "new" platform.
Wed 14 April: The refused connections problem seems to have been solved, thanks to the efforts of a competent technician in the "Escalated Support" department, but the server response times are patchy, from being really fast to painfully slow. At least it works, sort of. Maybe I'll get to keep my job. We are still a long way from their mission statement:
Delight customers and help them succeed by profitably delivering superior solutions and an outstanding customer experience.

Their customers think otherwise.
Thursday 15 April (day 12): last night these bright sparks enhanced my outstanding customer experience by deleting the SQL database. I wonder what else they plan to break?
Friday 16 April: It turns out they didn't delete the database, just took it offline for 12 hours. That means the database servers will only be 99.863% reliable this year, even if nothing else goes wrong.
Saturday 17 April: Discovered that the Visitor Stats last updated: 04/13/2010 4:55 PM EDT, which was a day before the SQL servers had their glitch. So there are no visitor stats for 13,14,15,16 and 17 April. Their standard response:
I was able to duplicate your issue. In order to investigate further, I need to escalate the issue to one of our technical specialists. You should be hearing from this specialist within 24-48 hours.
They also changed the stats settings to use AWStats instead of Webalyzer. I wonder why they did that?
Mon 19 April: Today's "outstanding customer experience" is the discovery that the FTP service has been randomly refusing connections all weekend. And another day's worth of server logs is missing. I'm really not looking for these problems: I note them as I bump into them, that's all.


Unknown said...

24-48 hours just to reply to your ticket (let alone how long it takes to resolution)? I guess that's to be expected by these budget hosts but I can tell you if one of my clients thought that their sites would be down for a day or two I would not have many clients left!

I would find better hosting.

Donn Edwards said...

It's pointless finding "better" hosting, because all the good companies get bought up by the useless ones.

I'd rather stay with a single company and train them how to do their job. It's a great learning experience.

I've also learnt that is you call a "help" desk and they talk rubbish you just hang up and try again. Same with "live chat". Just string they guy along while you connect to someone else on another PC.

Anonymous said...

Their chat support is in bangalore.
I moved a client off of webhost4life when the migration broke his sites. We have been amazed by how much faster the site runs on the new host -- and the new hosting is at the same price as webhost4life too -- with support that responds within minutes with good answers. We have been living in the slow lane for a long time and didn't realize it. Just look around for a new host.

Donn Edwards said...

What hosting company are you using now?

Anonymous said...

my Web sites have been DOWN FOR 5 DAYS and counting, this IS UNBELIEVABLE, they don't fix it, chat support people keep saying they are working on it but they don't even answer support tickets for days.

Since they moved to new platform there is a lot of problems now, control panel doesnt work properly, data from database lost, its a complete mess, the old platform was ok.

SO DISSAPOINTED, NO recommended.

frustrated customer said...

what is the hosting company you used where the website is loading faster..?

Donn Edwards said...

The faster server is the original WH4L server. The new server is WH4L but hosted by the new owners, EIG.

The consensus on Twitter is to move to WinHost or Arvixe. Check out for more info, and bear in mind that most of the "rave reviews" for WH4L are from last year.

Carl Partridge said...

I have had trouble-free service from webhost4life for nearly three years and then, exactly the same as you, they have broken huge areas of my site this week by forcing it over to the new platform.

They didn't tell me they would do this.

They simply migrated my site, without asking, and damaged it in the process.

Angry? Doesn't even begin to describe how I'm feeling about them right now...

Anonymous said...

I could just duplicate all the comments everyone else as made. Same nonsense from technical support, all sites are down.

They are muppets, do not host with them

Anonymous said...

WH4L sucks bad, real bad. Their migration has caused me nothing but problems and countless hours troubleshooting, getting nowhere on the phone and the 24-48 hour return on tickets is crazy. Their billing department missed a bunch of charges then charged them all at once and their receipt system says they did it right. DO NOT USE WH4L.

George said... - what a joke! WebHost4Nobody should be their name! is totally incompetent and has been for me the cause of nothing but troubles, headaches, and sleepless nights for almost 4 months.

And a few words about the billing. BEWARE they do not stand by their guarantees! First of all they do not refund any add-on features you purchased in addition to your plan - at all! So, even if you spend more than what the plan cost you on those extra features (like extra domain) - they will not you refund a buck! Second: regardless of what your issue is they will impose a hefty cancellation fee! Third: when issuing partial refunds for the hosting plans they calculate the amount by looking into complete months of hosting left, and rounding the amount in their favor! So if you have left 117 days with them, they will refund for 90 days only, not 117! Fourth: if you have prepaid for the hosting (like I did - I paid 40 days before my hosting would expire), they will turn it on its head and state that your real payment date was the begging of the new billing period, and the beginning of the new billing period was the date when you paid! That's what they told me on the phone: literally they accused me of late payment, when in fact it was the other way around! So, not only is their support incompetent, but their accounting department is incompetent as well! Fifth: I have asked them several times not to put my account on auto-renew; and over the phone they assured me it was off, but when I logged in to the control panel, the auto-renew was on - they disrespect you completely! Finally: when it comes to arguing that you want to cancel the account and get a refund, stating unacceptable downtime as the reason, they tell you literally: "Yes we do provide and guarantee 99% uptime, but that is cumulative, not during any particular time period". In other words, if you host your website for 5 years with them (that's 60 months), it's ok by their terms for your website to be down for 2-3 weeks in a row, because the uptime guarantee is cumulative! Ridiculous! So, basically, you would be very lucky if you get anything back from them! Do not trust them, and stay away!

I am glad that I have finally ended my relationship with them and moved to a great alternative - ARVIXE. I am btw not their affiliate or anything, but thought its important I mention a good place where you can go if you want to host a moderate websites with SQL Server databases.

And here's a response time chart generated by Pingdom for my website when it was hosted by and later when it was on ARVIXE's servers! It's real data, and to me the difference is astonishing:

The bottom line is that if you want your website to be constantly inaccessible, offline, slow, and unresponsive, and if you like repeating your questions and explaining your issues 10 times over to the support team only to hear that they "are sorry" or that "it works fine now", then is for you. Otherwise - don't even consider this terrible web host!

Sorry for the lengthy and at times sarcastic review, but I really wanted to give a thorough and comprehensive review with specific examples and facts, and to warn people to stay away from!