Thursday, April 29, 2010

WebHost4Life: why I got so angry

"They're only a hosting company that you pay less than $10 per month. Why get so upset when your site goes down? Why yell and shout on the phone for 30 minutes at the CEO? Have you lost your marbles?"
This thought went through my head many times yesterday, but my answer remains the same: you mess with *MY* web site and I get really pissed off; ignore my support requests for several days, and I go ballistic. *MY* web site represents hours and hours of work, often done after hours or over weekends. For me it is a work of art, a labour of love, and an extension of who I am.
If you mess with that, you're messing with me. You're also betraying my trust. I signed up and paid for service a year in advance. I struggled and tweaked, uploaded and tested, and spent hours and hours getting the damn thing to work. Of course I'll get fed up if something goes wrong, epecially when you deny that anything is wrong and that you broke it.
If I find over a period of time that your service is unreliable or your help system sucks, I weigh the pain of moving with the pain of staying. If there are technical glitches that get sorted out over time, as long as you own up to them, I'll cut you some slack.
But don't send me a hype-laden impersonal email with no signature or name on the bottom and tell me that you are "migrating" my precious baby to a "new platform" without giving me the chance to test this platform. Don't promise to do it in February and then do it 34 days later.
Don't train your "support staff" to lie about their names (there is no-one called Agustin Bates/Perry Peters/Jessy Pratt in Mangalore India) and tell me there is nothing to do until your account is "migrated" when it is precisely the migration that has gone horribly and catastrophically wrong. I was caught between a rock and a hard place by YOUR new system that I don't care about or even understand. You should have explained it up front. You didn't.
Now you have lost 10% of your customer base and you have the arrogance to tell me that only a "tiny fraction" of all the migrations have gone wrong. Are you trying to tell me I'm a "difficult" client because I'm in the "tiny fraction"? Would you rather I just shut up and left? And you expect me to take this rubbish? When you say "... we’re able to move 95%+ of accounts without customer participation ..." what you're actually saying that you are screwing up 1 in 20 sites. And then you sound surprised when I get upset? As Dr Phil would say, "What were you thinking??"
Now you know why I got upset. I don't respond well to bullshit.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

About the Endurance International Group (EIG)

After being stuffed around for weeks by WebHost4Life and the (mis)management team that bought it, I have been reading the Endurance International Group's web site more closely. It has been an interesting read, mainly because of what they don't tell you. Take, for example, the following:
"Acquisitions are a key component of our growth strategy. Using a proprietary methodology, we have completed acquisitions with more than 30 hosting companies and migrated more than half-a-million customers onto our platform since 2001."
They omit to list all these acquisitions. I wonder why? Here is a list I compiled, using Google to search for the fax number used by their legal department. It seems that David C. Bryson, General Counsel, is a busy man with all these clients.
If my experience is anything to go by, the only way they are going to grow is through acquisitions, and even then they manage to persuade a significant percentage to change hosting providers during the process. According to, WebHost4Life's hosted domains grew for 2007-2009 from 62,076 to 70,669 domains. In 2010 the decline has set in, so that by April 19, 2010 they are down to 63,379 domains, a loss of 11.5% in just 4 months. My guess is that most of those 7,290 domains are sites that were screwed up by their "migration" process.
Speaking of migration, here is the "Migration Experience for Customers" spin
Through the migration "wheel" technology, the vast majority of accounts can be moved to the Endurance platform with minimal customer involvement. We don’t just move files, we activate accounts on our system — paying attention to the smallest of details — even changes to settings and scripts are handled automatically.
In fact, we’re able to move 95%+ of accounts without customer participation — and, we offer intuitive tools for assisting the remaining customers in their transitions.
They fail to mention what percentage of those "migrated" web sites actually work after they have been moved. Also, they state that they move 95% of the accounts without customer participation before the move, because most of the customer "participation" happens after they realise their web site is no longer working, the database is corrupt or old, or the settings are completely screwed up.
While we will see an increase in support traffic during this time, the vast majority of contacts are simple customer-education issues that our agents are trained to coach customers through.
What they fail to point out is that the only "help" they actually are capable of providing is "customer-education issues", because they are unable to do any technical changes at the "technical support" desk themselves. They simply log a call and leave it to overworked and incompetent technicians to "fix". Often this takes so long that the customer has already left by the time they get to attend to the problem.
During the "migration" process a number of other changes occur, such as the imposition of a $35 "cancellation fee". Unless you specifically kick up a fuss, this fee is deducted from money you may already have paid, and the remainder is refunded. Spot the ripoff. Now contrast this with the statement
At Endurance, our mission is to "Delight customers and help them succeed by profitably delivering superior solutions and an outstanding customer experience." This holds true for all of our customers, and especially those who go through the migration process.
If this is the case, why does the call centre not have any of the contact details of EIG, such as the name, email address and phone number of the CEO? Because the last thing the CEO wants to do is listen to the complaints of outraged customers whose web sites and data have been destroyed, and whose businesses have been impacted by the callous avarice of EIG.
I checked on the Web Host Directory Awards page and not a single EIG company is listed in their awards. I guess that's no surprise, really.
Update: The Better Business Bureau lists some of the hosting companies shown above. I have marked them with a star (*)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Your Copier Could Be Spying On You

CBS ran a story about how many copiers have built-in hard drives that retain digital copies of documents that can later fall into the wrong hands. Great for industrial espionage and crime syndicates. Just wheel in a new copier, take the old one away, and start reading those old copies. I heard about it on Security Now! podcast #245.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SA Politics in a nutshell

Trevor Hoah is brilliant. He summarises the SA political media circus so well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FIFA's Official Match Fixing

We were warned a long time ago that FIFA would rip off South Africa during 2010. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the tourists are staying away.
The Kruger National Park recently dumped some 25 000 rooms on the market, after Match Services, for whom they had been reserved, failed to sell them. It paid no penalties for relinquishing the reservations, so the park now has only a few weeks left to try to sell the empty beds.
Match Services is the organisation that was granted monopoly rights by FIFA to sell tickets and tour packages to foreign visitors. Match is part-owned by a company run by Phillipe Blatter, the nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter. It has been cavalier in its treatment of South African businesses and rapacious in its sales to foreign tourists.
The same happened with more than two thirds of the nearly two million rooms Match originally reserved. Many of the hotels, lodges and B&Bs that agreed to Match's harsh terms, because it seemed to be the only chance of participating in the promised World Cup bonanza, are now stuck with tons of unsold inventory and little time to sell it.
Meanwhile, tour operators are expected to pay a whopping $30 000 licence fee to Match for every country in which they wish to sell packages. For a foreign operator serving only its own country, that's bad enough. But for a South African tour operator with clients all over the world, the initial outlay to Match could be crippling. If your company gets two groups each from five countries, that's over a million rand you have to recoup from ten paying customers, just to take care of the Match mafia.
Clearly, only the really big operators can afford such an extortionate shake-down, so smaller businesses are left out in the cold. So much for developing the tourism industry in South Africa.
As if this isn't enough, Match charges massive markups, including 35% on World Cup tickets themselves. Rooms were sold to Match at the kind of knock-down prices only a monopolist can demand: it insisted on paying 2007 rates. Reports vary, but talk in tourism circles suggests that international guests pay anywhere between 50% and 500% more than regular high season rack rates for rooms resold by Match.

Read the full story "Who is ripping off whom?" at The Daily Maverick. And then there's the book "FOUL!" by Andrew Jennings. He has a most interesting web site,

Monday, April 19, 2010

What does 99.999% mean?

When someone promises "99.999%" uptime, they're probably lying. It's a goal of many IT professionals, but seldom achieved.
Just do the maths to figure out why. 99.999% of 1 year is 365*0.99999 which is 364 days, 23 hours 54 minutes and 44.6 seconds. So if your server reboot takes longer than 5 minutes, you have already run out of time, even in a year. I have created a table with the allowable downtime for various percentages:

%Per YearPer Month
99.999%5 mins25 sec
99.99%52 mins4 min 22 sec
99.9%8 hrs 45 mins43 mins
99%3 days 15.6 hrs7 hrs 18 mins
95%18 days 6 hours 36.5 hours

Percentages are often used to hide unpleasant facts. For example, a condom that is 95% effective means that if you have sex more than 20 times, you might as well not bother, because 95% means 19 times out of 20 you're protected, and the twentieth time it will fail, if not sooner.