Good Times, Bad Times: Uptime, Downtime, Runtime Errors

February 1, 2007 by HostSearch Staff Writer

Webmasters get the strangest emails!

Most come from people wanting something - usually information, often free services of some kind. Schoolkids demand I send them information immediately for their report due tomorrow. Someone even asked me to name their cat (which I did)!

Among the many skills necessary to be a successful webmaster, especially one who handles many emails, is sorting through the lot of them and deciding which ones to take time to answer in detail, which ones to respond to quickly, and which ones to hit the DELETE button on!

Sometimes, however, surfers - especially those compulsive emailers! - can be very useful. They can make helpful suggestions on improving your site, tell you what they`d like to see on your site, or see taken off it, and best and worst of all - send you the webmaster`s nightmare message: "Your site is down! Why? When will it be back up? What kind of business are you running anyway?"

You immediately check for yourself, and, lo and behold, your site is gone, replaced by a single ugly ERROR page - 403?!?!?

"But I had a 100% uptime guarantee!" you think to yourself. "That`s what they told me when I signed up! Now what do I do?" Who do I call or email, especially since it`s usually the middle of the night - or the weekend - when these things happen!

Too late, you realize that you should have looked into your web host`s guarantees and services much more closely than you did when you were in a hurry to get your site up.

The 3 R`s of Uptime: Research, Redundancy, & Reliability

You are looking for a home for your web site - be it personal or business. How quickly would you decide to pick a physical building to move your business into? I would guess that you would take some time to consider a variety of options and factors. Why should you do any different in cyberspace - on the Net?

Check out their uptime guarantees in detail - they vary considerably. The best will offer somewhere around a 99.5% uptime guarantee. They automatically apply any earned credits to your account if the server is not up 99.5% of any given month. A web host like this, that is, with high standards, then calculates the downtime down to the minute and subsequently reports every minute of downtime publicly - and to all its clients. They even post the results on their own web page for anyone to see and check. But get this, the most important point: you get the credits even if you didn`t know the server was down!

For other web hosts, to get any credit you must submit a detailed report concerning your web site`s downtime in writing; then, this document must be verified by the host. The cost of the host monitoring its servers to ensure your site is up as much as they guaranteed it would be may cost more to them than the refund is worth. Check out the fine print. Talk to them if possible!

Still other web hosts present you with a clever offer. To receive any credit, their servers must be down five consecutive hours. So, they are down four hours one day, two another, three another, and so on, but hey! - they were never down five hours in a row - on a trot - hence, sorry but no credit, man.

Another example: you see a certain web host is offering a 99.999% uptime guarantee. Great! BUT, to qualify for the guarantee, you must first sign a "guarantee contract" with them. OK, so what does this mean? In short, it often means that you must choose - and pay for of course - from among their most expensive packages. On top of this, they advise you, if you buy extra features from them, this will certainly help your site stay up more than if you didn`t buy these features - more than their cheaper clients! You get what you pay for, according to these hosts - and they pocket the difference.

Finally, the ultimate 100% uptime guarantee! This is what everyone wants, after all, isn`t it? They tell you that if your site is down for more then ten minutes at any time (standard for necessary system reboots), they will credit you 25% of your bill! Submit the detailed documentation of when your site was down, they`ll compare it with their logs, and if they match exactly, they may get back to you and even fulfill their promise. Again, read that small print - make it bigger with your browser`s "increase font size" option! You may well find something like the following: "No more than one outage per month can be credited."

Take care, do your homework - research, research, research - and you may well save yourself major headaches and financial losses down the road. Uptime is good time!

At the risk of being redundant, bear in mind that no matter how advanced and sophisticated the equipment, no matter how hot and savvy the engineers, technology, being technology, does fail from time to time. A web host with backup diesel generators, multiple routers and switches, secondary servers, and UPS systems is capable of providing consistent, high-speed access and can guarantee at least 99% uptime.

Web hosting companies, as opposed to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), have high-speed lines connected to more than one Internet "backbone" provider. This is critical to reliable web site uptime, since network service can be interrupted by technical glitches and unexpected surges in traffic. A redundant network design allows a web host to direct traffic away from Internet "hotspots" and over to the fastest routes available at that time so your site remains up even if one network`s service is interrupted.

Ask your potential web hosts about their disaster plans, redundancy, and backups. You can tell a great deal about a host if you manage to speak to a human working there! If you hang up feeling snowballed, look around you for the snow - you probably were. If it sounds too good to be true, well, most likely it is!

The best web hosting providers can offer high uptime guarantees because they`ve invested in the best automatic monitoring equipment; hired professional and experienced engineers who can anticipate potential problems and emergencies; and installed redundant backup systems to automatically take over the moment anything starts to go wrong.

If a web host guarantees 95% uptime, that might sound pretty good, but bear in mind that this translates into 8.4 hours of downtime - i.e., bad time - per week. 8.4 out of 168 hours in a week may not necessarily do much damage; however, following Mr. Murphy`s Law, your best client or potential client will probably try to visit your site during this 5% downtime! And you will never know what you have lost!

If the host has nothing to lose if your site is down, then their efficiency and speed in bringing the site back up may leave a great deal to be desired. An uptime guarantee may only mean a small refund for you, but if your web host is refunding every client on their server $5, this could mean real losses for them.

Get a guarantee before signing up with your next host. When doing so, make sure the guarantee is really what it seems to be. If you are unclear about the details, email - or better yet, call if possible - and ask the host about it. You will learn more about your potential host and the people who work there in the process, and if you are still not satisfied or clear, there are plenty of other web hosts around who do want your business, and are willing to make the time to talk to you. Remember, you are the customer!

A few final tips:
NEVER simply assume that a guarantee means your site will never be down! Inevitably, sometime, it will be - sooner or later - for shorter or longer. Look around on the potential web host`s site to find the details and that infamous fine print. Then, read it! If you are unclear, contact them for clarification.

If you go with a host that requires documentation of exact downtimes, ask them if they will also credit you with additional downtimes they find in their logs when comparing them. It can`t hurt to ask!

If possible, ask them for references, neutral clients that you can check with about the web host`s performance, including uptime and customer support.

Do not count on the web host telling you your site was down and offering you credit - only in the best of all possible worlds! There is a way, however, to automatically monitor your site`s up and downtime - and get an email telling you when it`s up and down!

About "Uptime"
"Uptime" is a server uptime monitoring system, provided as a service to the entire Internet by ArsDigita. This program monitors a bunch of Web sites for a bunch of people. It sends the monitor`s owner an email message when a site becomes unreachable.

Uptime periodically requests a page from your server. If the site is unreachable, Uptime sends you email. Uptime will continue checking your site. When it becomes reachable again, Uptime will send you one more message.

If you wish to be beeped by Uptime, then you need only subscribe to a beeper service that has an email gateway. You can give Uptime a custom subject line or message body if your beeping service needs a specially formatted message.

Most users` servers get queried every 15 minutes by Uptime. For more information, and to sign up for Uptime, go to

Runtime Errors
What do "runtime errors" have to do with uptime, downtime, or any of this? Not much, I must admit, but it somehow seemed related in the mind of the author when writing this article late one night, so I include a definition for those who wish to read on:

A runtime error is an error that occurs during the execution of a program. In contrast, compile-time errors occur while a program is being compiled.

Runtime errors indicate bugs in the program or problems that the designers had anticipated but could do nothing about. For example, running out of memory will often cause a runtime error.

Note that runtime errors differ from "bombs" or "crashes" in that you can often recover gracefully from a runtime error.

Recovery from other errors, alas, is sometimes far from graceful!

Now you know.

Article Rating

Rate this article:

Article Rating


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Top 3 Hosts From Our Search

1The VPS Company