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The Causes of Downtime: The Myths and Reality
Early on in the days of the Internet, e-business was not a major factor. Corporate and business websites were mainly online portfolios where potential customers could go to gather information. Even then these were very expensive, and they would go offline often. This downtime was a constant and major source of frustration that impacted company brands, but had only a minor impact on their bottom line. Downtime was expected, it was the norm.
Fast-forward to today and the story is very different. Ecommerce is the only trillion dollar industry that is growing at double digit rates. Server downtime costs a great deal of money, as hundreds of thousands of business are running an ecommerce platform on their site. 99.99% uptime has become the promise from quality web hosts. The standards that we expect have changed. We will not accept outrages. We will not accept inaccessible websites and email. Today’s Internet consumers cast scornful, mistrusting glances at 'offline' websites, before quickly navigating to pastures new to find a 'more reliable' company, never to return again.
A common question we get from clients is, therefore, what causes downtime? The reality is that there are a number of factors, from the malicious, to poor service on the part of your current web host. One common myth is that most downtime is caused by attacks. While a lot of downtime is caused by these attacks, the true culprit is often insufficient hosting infrastructure and support.
Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS)
Generally DDoS, or distributed denial of service attacks, are targeted at large companies. Such attacks are carried out by utilising thousands of compromised computer systems located around the world to flood a server with traffic. This will lead to the server becoming unavailable for legitimate users. Basically it uses up all of the available bandwidth capacity heading into and out of the server.
Most companies in the past didn’t have to worry about DDoS attacks. They were generally initiated to make a point, usually political, by hackers, and carried out against large targets. Over the past 12 months, these attacks have become more indiscriminate, and hosts have been hit hard too. This heightens the importance of choosing a host with an infrastructure to repel and recover from these attacks as best as possible.
Whilst most of the public assumes hacking is the number one source of downtime on the Internet, they are in fact very wrong. This does not mean, however, that hacking is a non-issue. In fact there are 12 major vulnerabilities in most websites, and your current website likely features them. It makes it all the more important to work with a hosting provider that offers 24/7 support to allow you to quickly recover when these events do happen. Host managed security does not hurt either.
Probably the most significant cause of downtime is insufficient infrastructure on a shared server. This does not mean shared servers are a bad hosting solution. In fact shared hosting is a very efficient hosting option that saves companies a lot of money. Shared hosting packages also allow the company to purchase only the capacity it needs, as most businesses will never require a full dedicated server, or large server partition, to house their website and handle the traffic.
The key to avoiding downtime is to partner with a hosting provider with serious customer service commitment. Shared hosting only becomes a problem when the host allows the servers to become overloaded. This overload generally occurs when the host has not invested in new infrastructure, or does not move sites off of a server when they start to generate a large amount of traffic, compromising server performance for others. A VPS, or virtual private server, or cloud solution, can mitigate your risk. But that is a discussion for another day...