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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Database Problems

NZTechie.com has been down for some hours today, reporting a ghastly looking error message when attempting to load the main page.

After some looking through the database I found that one of the tables was corrupt. I performed a repair within PHPMyAdmin which appears to have resolved the issue for now. The Startlogic repair facility within the Vdeck did not resolve the fault.

I am still experiencing a problem whereby my homepage is loading at an extremely slow rate. [Update: 28 Feb - Caching appears to have not been enabled for my feeds - Issue resolved]

Also the Startlogic Vdeck database backup facility is reporting errors stating you do not have permission to back up OR it provides invalid backups with no content in them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Startlogic: The Outage Saga Continues

I have been a Startlogic customer since 2004 and have generally found the overall service to be somewhat satisfactory, unless you have an issue that requires the attendance of the Startlogic support desk. On the Startlogic homepage they claim to be 'trusted by over 100,000 customers'.

This report is intended to act as a record of the recent 32 hour outage that one of Startlogic's shared hosting servers (named st03) suffered, and the subsequent outages which took place after it was initially restored to service.

MY EXPERIENCE

Prior to 3:00pm (New Zealand Standard Time) the Startlogic shared web server st03.startlogic.com suffered a complete outage. All websites hosted on st03.startlogic.com were inaccessible during the this period.

Despite multiple chat sessions with the Startlogic helpdesk, the server was not operational for a total of 32 hours. I spoke with numerous technicians over this time period and they gave assurances that my website would be restored in certain time frames, with the most common being; soon, a few minutes, 2 hours and 6 hours respectively. Additionally, during one chat session the helpdesk person advised me of two hours and then later changed her mind to 6 hours for restoration (Melanie Evans).

After my website was restored (32 hours later) I found that Startlogic had reset all the directory permissions for my website to more restrictive settings. I queried this with the helpdesk analyst (Ivan Davis) who then told me to go in and fix them myself. I did this but am quite annoyed with the attitude in relation to something they caused. When speaking with him he terminated the connection as soon as I advised him that I could connect to my website. This is quite unprofessional.

Subsequently, my website experienced several additional outages to a lesser degree of varying timeframes since the initial recovery.

When I asked more details about the exact cause of the server outages, either the helpdesk staff were unwilling or unable to provide this information. I would not expect them to know the cause of the fault as soon as it occurred, so I did ask them well down the track while the server was undergoing the apparent 'recovery' process. If the server was being recovered then surely their engineers should have information on the root cause by then.

Information that I was able to glean from the helpdesk staff includes the fact that st03.startlogic.com hosts websites for approximately 500 customers and that the root cause may have been server overloading (Ivan Davis). Another Helpdesk Analyst (Christopher Kiplin) suggested to me that the outage could in fact be related to server maintenance being performed at the time. I received no prior notification of any server maintenance of any kind.

Of the five or so Analysts I chatted with I did seem to make the most progress when dealing with Ivan Davis. To his credit when I asked for compensation he forwarded my request and compensation was provided (An email from the Billing department advised me I was to be compensated).

In relation to the smaller subsequent outages he advised me that my website would be up within a few minutes. He was true to his word and my website did respond. I kept him entertained with random questions so I could keep him online to give it a few moments for the site to be recovered.

During my period as a customer since 2004 I have only experienced two major sets of website outages (this one inclusive), but I have always found that the recovery process is painfully slow.

Startlogic hosting packages are dirt cheap and perhaps you might think that you get what you pay for. When I signed-up to Startlogic the site advertised an uptime guarantee of 99.9%. With the events of late, Startlogic is no longer providing this uptime promise to me. I have also noticed that they no longer display any uptime percentage guarantees on their website.

OTHER PROBLEMS I HAVE EXPERIENCED

Listed below are other problems which I have experienced since 2004 with Startlogic:

  • The premature closure of support tickets, with no response from the helpdesk
  • Removing Anonymous FTP access. I can no longer host files via FTP for users unless credentials are created for them.
  • Main account to connect to my site via FTP was disabled for no apparent reason. I had to log into my vDeck and create a new user.
  • Lots of problems with the vDeck control panel and items refusing to load, or the entire control panel becoming inaccessible.
  • Inability of the Startlogic Helpdesk to create a CNAME subdomain record correctly. They fail to put a full stop/period after the name of the server I am pointing the CNAME to. This is despite me advising them to use a full stop. This functionality is available in the vDeck Control panel, but only when it's working!
  • Extensive delays in having my hard disk space increased. They would increase storage space for me and I would find the next day that it had reverted to the previous size.
  • Failure of email services from time to time
  • Inability for the Startlogic helpdesk to email me at my New Zealand ISP (Orcon) email address. Nothing ever comes through that they send to that address, whether it be from a person or any automated notification system they have configured. They can email me at my @nztechie.com address.
In my list of complaints I have stated that I am unable to receive email from Startlogic to my normal email address. When you create a support request ticket you are able to log into the members area of the Startlogic website and check on them though this portal.

THE NEW PLATFORM

For quite some time now Startlogic has been migrating customers to what they call their 'new platform'. This new platform is promised to improve the reliability and responsiveness of websites and provide better data security with improved backup.

Below is a snippet of part of my chat session with the Startlogic helpdesk where they promise no problems once I am migrated to the new platform.

Ivan Davis: Hayden, the issue is resulted due to the load on the server. Once you are upgraded to the new platform, you will not experience any issues.
Hayden Tennent: Do you guarantee that?
Ivan Davis: Yes, Hayden.


RELATED ARTICLES

32 Hour Startlogic Outage

Startlogic compensates me for the Outage!

Startlogic Outage for st03.startlogic.com

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Modifying Web Server File Permssions in Filezilla

There are an enormous number of open source PHP applications on the web for installing on your own webserver, whether it be your own server or on a shared host server.

In many cases these PHP applications come with their own easy to use installers, requiring the webmaster to simply upload the extracted code to their server and then run the included web-based installer. If well designed, the web-based installer will setup the entire configuration with the only user interaction being the answering of a few questions and the clicking of 'next'.

Now there is one component that these web-based installers can not configure. They can not configure the permissions on the files and directories associated with the installation. In many cases if the application is well documented the webmaster will be directed to change the permissions on particular directories and/or files. Included steps on how to do this will vary from installation to installation.

One Method
(with FileZilla!)

If you are installing on a Unix-like (Linux) server you can directly send commands to the server via a command line interface (CLI), however many users will prefer the convenience of a GUI Windows-based configuration. This is where FileZilla comes in.

This article assumes a basic familiarity with using FileZilla.

STEP 1

You will know about a file permission error when one of the following occurs

- The Installer advises you that a particular file/directory is not writable

- You try and run the application and you receive cryptic error messages stating that a file or directory could not be written to

If the application is well documented you should be advised which folders and files need writable access. You may have been given a series of permissions in the form of three numbers such as "777".

STEP 2

Within FileZilla browse to the directory or file you need to change. Right-Click it and select "File Attributes..."


You will then be presented with the following window which will allow you to change the file/directory attributes:


The important thing to understand here is that there are two methods to configure permissions in this window. The first is by using the check boxes, with the second being to enter a numeric value in the box at the bottom. Any changes you make to one will be immediately reflected in the other.

If the permissions you require are documented as a numeric value you can enter them in the text box to meet your requirements.

If there is a complete lack of documentation on the numeric value to enter, try 775 and failing that try 777. These numeric values will generally make a file or directory writable.

Please note that making a change to a directory will not cause all files underneath it to inherrit the same permissions. You will need to manually change any files underneath, either one-by-one or selecting multiple files at once when using the File Attributes command on them.

Explanation of File Permissions

Owner - The uploader of the file
Group - Usually other registered hosting users on the server
Public - Public Internet Users

In the three number representation of permissions, the first number is for the owner, the second for the group, and the third for Public Internet Users.

E.g Owner/Group/Public - 777

Below are all permission attributes available:

0 None
1 Execute
2 Write
3 Write, Execute
4 Read
5 Read, Execute
6 Read, Write
7 Read, Write, Execute

Examples

775 - Gives Read, Write, and Execute permissions to both the Owner and Group. Gives Read and Execute permissions only to the public.

777 - Gives Read, Write, and Execute permissions to all users.

765 - Gives Read, Write, and Execute permissions to the owner, and Read, Write permissions to the Group, and Read, Execute permissions to Public Internet Users.

Sometimes it is necessary to give a file/directory 777 attributes to get an application to function correctly.

If you are still struggling with any permission issues or have further questions, feel free to drop me an email or comment on this post.