MDD Hosting and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

or, How to Destroy an Entire Data Center with a Typo

First, MDD Hosting is awesome. I’ve been with them for about a year and a half, and will likely stay for decades if they stay awesome. Uptime – with the one big exception described below, has been good. Speed is great. Price is reasonable. They check all my must-have and nice-to-have features: LiteSpeed server; cPanel; free Let’s Encrypt SSL; CloudLinux account isolation technology; SSD storage; Softaculous Autoinstaller; PHP version selector; Not associated with Endurance International Group (EIG); No obnoxious up-selling or other BS marketing games. Most impressive is help service – always prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable.

But last September, MDD and its clients endured a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – several days actually.

Throughout the crisis MDD CEO Michael Denney was transparent and communicative. Some highlights from his initial email …

What happened?

A server administrator, the most experienced administrator we have, made a big mistake. During some routine maintenance where he was supposed to perform a file system trim he mistakenly performed a block discard.

What does this mean?

The server administrator essentially told our storage platform to drop all data rather than simply dropping data that had been marked as deleted.

Why is restoration taking so long?

Normally we would rely on snapshots in our storage platform – simply mounting a snapshot from prior to the incident and booting servers back up. It would have taken minutes. We are not sure as of yet, and will need to investigate, but snapshots were disabled. I wish I could tell you why – and I wish I knew why – but we don’t know yet and will have to look into it.

Our disaster recovery server is our last resort to restore client data and, as it stands, is the only copy we have remaining of all client data.

We are sorry – we don’t want you to be offline any more than you do.

Of course I have backups of my sites and could have restored them myself, but that would be a lot of work. Also, I had already been demonetized by Google, so my sites being down wasn’t costing me much. MDD restored service in order of account age – long-time customers first. Which means I was last in line. Somehow though my server got bumped up to the middle of the queue. Still, my sites were down for three full days.

These things happen, I guess, and MDD has been superb in all other respects, so they still have my loyalty. A quibble though – it would have been a nice gesture if MDD honored their 1000% Uptime Guarantee without it having to be specifically requested by each client. I did request, and received 30 days hosting credit.

CloudFlare as a Registrar, Part II

I received notification of early entry to the CloudFlare registrar service. I transferred a domain (this one) for a test drive. My initial impression … pretty awesome!

The process of transferring the domain was less time consuming and onerous than I expected. It required actions at both CloudFlare and NameSilo, as well as email. The steps at CloudFlare were a bit confusing, not always clear what was happening or where and when to click, and instructions seemed lacking. I almost gave up a couple of times. But the CF registrar service is in its infancy and I’m sure the user experience will improve. There were several delays while things got sorted out. Overall the process took maybe an hour of work over the course of a couple of days.

And … I think I’m going to really, really like CF as a registrar. In a nutshell, it is the exact opposite of GoDaddy:

  • The CF registrar service is bare bones. The full extent of the CF domain manager (see image) is a small section of the site’s Overview page. That’s it. Just the essentials. Everything I need with nothing extra to get in my way.
  • Absolutely no obnoxious up-selling. Maybe because there is nothing to up-sell.
  • My concerns over extra-cost services appear to be groundless.
    • Whois Privacy is included for free, by default.
    • Two-Factor Authentication is the existing, free service that CF has long offered, and which I already use.
  • As an unexpected bonus, DNSSEC is not only free, but setup automatically if I already was using it.

CF as a registrar has a lot going for it. But, I can think of a couple of good reasons to stick with NameSilo. First, NameSilo is also awesome, has provided me superb service, and is just slightly more expensive than CF. Also, I really like keeping my registrar service separate from all other services. So, I will likely stick with NameSilo for most of my domains. That said, CF as a registrar is absolutely worthy of consideration. If I ever have a need to move on from NameSilo, it gives me great peace of mind to know that CF is waiting patiently as a safety net.

Coming Soon: CloudFlare as a Registrar

For awhile now, CloudFlare has been quietly advertising “coming-soon” no-added-fees registrar services for CloudFlare customers – even those like me on the free tier. According to the sales pitch, CF will charge exactly $0 for this service, adding no fee at all to the Wholesale Registry fee (currently $7.85 for dot com) + the $0.18 ICANN fee. So, CF will register a dot com domain for the bargain annual cost of $8.03.

 

I have been extremely happy with my current registrar, NameSilo. They charge $8.99 per year per dot com, almost a full dollar more than CloudFlare. So, CF is – or will be – a better deal, right? I’m not so sure.

First, transferring domains is a time-consuming and complicated royal pain in the rear. Even for a notorious cheapskate like me, it may not be worth all the hassle to save a buck/domain/year.

Second, I really like the concept of keeping my registrar services separate from other web services. CF is planning to offer registrar services only for domains already on CF – including, very generously, on the free tier. But if I ever decide to move on from CF, I would have to once again endure the time-consuming and complicated process to transfer my domains back to NameSilo. Or, if CF fell out of love with me, they could conceivably hold my domain names hostage. I have no reason to suspect the good people at CF would do such a thing, but it has happened to many domain owners when dealing with less ethical web companies.

Third, there are some troubling ambiguities and seeming contradictions in the CF sales pitch:

  • The sales pitch clearly states … “we promise to never charge you anything more than the wholesale price each TLD charges. That’s true the first year and it’s true every subsequent year. If you register your domain with Cloudflare Registrar you’ll always pay the wholesale price with no markup.”
    • All well and good for the registration fee. What about for associated support services? CF is much more ambiguous. The sales pitch lists the following services – note that only DNSSEC is explicitly listed as free: “Two-factor authentication; Multi-user support; WHOIS management; Automatic domain renewal; Registrar Locking; DNSSEC (free); Bulk Domain Transfers; Developer-friendly API.”
    • Will the other services be free, or $1 each/year, or $10 each/month? Who knows? CF doesn’t say.
    • What is clear is that NameSilo offers most of these services – including: Two-factor authentication; WHOIS management; Automatic domain renewal; Registrar Locking; DNSSEC; and Bulk Domain Transfers – as well as others not mentioned by CF, like Domain Defender and Domain Parking (with my advertisements) – absolutely for free.
  • There is also a disconcerting disconnect between CF’s sales pitch … “we promise to never charge you anything more than the wholesale price each TLD charges”, and the fine-print legal language in their Domain Registration Agreement … “Cloudflare expressly reserves the right to change or modify its prices and fees for the Registrar Services at any time”.

So, I think I’ll stick with NameSilo. For now at least. When CF’s registrar service is actually offered, no longer “coming soon” for an unknown period, I’ll probably move a domain over and try it out, and update this post with my experience.

Update 2019-01-20: I received notification of early entry to the CF registrar service. I transferred a domain (this one) for a test drive. My initial impression … pretty awesome! See CloudFlare as a Registrar, Part II.

WP dot com or WP dot org?

The interwebs are full of comparisons of WordPress dot org and pretty much everything else, including its sibling WordPress dot com. Basically WP dot org is free, open-source CMS software that I self-host using my own domain name and a commercial hosting provider of my choice. It has a bit of a learning curve but limitless possibilities. WP dot com is a commercial entity that offers to host my blog on its servers. It is easy to use and offers a free tier but is somewhat limited – especially on the free tier. It is frequently compared to Google Blogger.

Really no need for me to add more – except for my point of view.

WP dot com or WP dot org

I don’t have much experience with WP dot com. I partially duplicated my sandbox site, aCstudent.com, at acstudent.wordpress.com, as a test drive. First impression: I can definitely see the appeal of WP dot com as a free blogging platform. It offers adequate capability for a simple blog, and a generous 3 GB of storage space. I might or might not choose it over Blogger – more on that in just a bit.

I absolutely do not get the appeal of the WP dot com paid plans. Even the lowest cost plan, at $48/year, is about what I would pay for a domain name and low-cost hosting to use WP dot org – which offers tremendously greater capability. The ‘Business Plan’ at a whopping $300/year … seems flat out nuts to me.

Back to the free plan – why might I choose Blogger instead? Blogger is also free and offers adequate capability for a simple blog. And there are a couple of things I don’t like about WP dot com …

WP dot com puts ads on my site, for which WP dot com gets the revenue. The free tier does not allow me to use AdSense or other ads that would generate revenue for me. I don’t like it, but I get it and could probable live with it. An absolutely free service with no ads would be a difficult business model to sustain.

Far worse is WP dot com’s misleading attack – in my humble opinion – on Internet freedom. It was apparently a one day call-to-action thing, but it is still featured in the admin dashboard, so …

Fight for Net Neutrality: The FCC wants to repeal Net Neutrality rules. Without net neutrality, big cable and telecom companies will be able to divide the Internet into fast and slow lanes. What would the Internet look like without Net Neutrality? Find out by enabling this banner on your site: it shows your support for Net Neutrality by displaying a message on the bottom of your site, and “slowing down” some of your posts.”

Take a close look at the ominous spinner and the unequivocal statement “This is what will happen” (emphasis added).  This is an absolute, proven lie. Other radical alarmists went even further, claiming that without Net Neutrality the Internet itself would end. So, you are not reading this. It is not possible. The Internet ended on April 23, 2018.

Freeing the Internet from the dictatorial control  and petty whims of arrogant big-nanny politicians and heartless giant corporations like Google, putting it back with the people where it belongs, had only positive consequences. The Internet worked just fine before Net Neutrality, with healthy competition preventing outrageous abuses. It once again works just fine after Net Neutrality was thankfully repealed. Like the more recent and egregious GDPR, Net Neutrality was never anything but an excuse for big government over-regulation, and a solution for problems that exist only in the anti-capitalism imaginations of the far left.

Then again, Google is a huge supporter of Net Neutrality as well. So, I guess one must pick one’s poison. The big advantage of WP dot com over Blogger is that I would be getting some experience with WP. So, when I inevitably decided to move on to a ‘real’ website, I would be better equipped to switch to WP dot org.

My Free-dom Experiment

Over the past decade or so I have become increasingly astounded and thankful at the availability and quality of free stuff for web work. WordPress – not just the core, but also awesome themes and plugins; ClouldFlare; IrfanView and GIMP for graphics work; FileZilla; Google Analytics; Notepad++ for coding – the list goes on and on. No longer do I have to risk falling behind on my rent to dabble in the web. As an experiment, I decided to see how far I could push the envelope. Could I launch a website without ads (or with only my ads) completely for free? This would include free domain name, free hosting, free CMS and other tools, free everything.

experiment free domain name hostingIt turns out, no. Not for me anyway, though I came kinda close.

The domain name was easy. FreeNom offers free domain names, most notably dot tk. FreeNom domains come with strings attached – mine has already been temporarily revoked twice in just a year and a half – but for a free experiment I can live with that. I needed a domain name that sounds catchy with the dot tk extension. Again, no worries: Traditional-Knowledge.tk. I didn’t want the hyphen, but FreeNom insisted on it. Thanks to a hobby of my Dad – documenting “Older, simpler ways of life” – I had plenty of inherited content just waiting to be posted.

As mentioned above, WordPress and other astonishingly great web tools are also free.

On to hosting. This was my downfall. It had to be free with no ads (other than mine). A colleague let me know about a cost-free, ad-free host that his son uses, but it turned out that host does not allow dot tk. With the help of Google I found a host promising free hosting with no ads. I signed up, launched the site, and … immediately the lying host put up ads. With more help from Google I found a hack to block the ads. And … I got booted, really quickly, kicked right out of there. Permanently banned I think. To be honest, completely free no-ads hosting would be a difficult-to-sustain business model, so no big surprise it didn’t work out.

Traditional-Knowledge.tk lives on, squatting in my reseller account, where it costs me nothing more than I would otherwise pay – but not really the completely free experience that I was going for. Free-dom has its limits, at least for me.

Update | 2019-01-10:  My free-dom experiment has ended. My dot tk domain was about to expire, so I logged into Freenom to renew it. It was gone – missing from my domains folder. No worries, I’ll just let it expire then re-register it. It expired. I tried to re-register it … Freenom had reclassified it as ‘premium’. It was no longer free but rather $10/year. No thanks.

The content will likely be moving to olderwaysof.life.

Uptime Monitoring

keep track of uptime in practiceWP hosting providers, even at the low end, almost universally claim ninety-nine-point-something percent uptime. I want to keep track of uptime in practice, not just claimed or ‘guaranteed’. I use both of the most widely recommended free uptime monitors – Uptime Robot and StatusCake. Both are easy – though somewhat different – to set up, and both offer a free tier. By using both, I hope to catch transient downtime that one or the other may miss. On the free tier Uptime checks my sites every five minutes and StatusCake – well, they don’t really say, just a “Slower interval rate” than the one minute interval of the lowest cost paid plan. Both monitor from multiple locations across the globe. And both will happily take my money if I opt for a more robust paid plan.

Domain Registrar

I use NameSilo as my domain registrar, and recommend it without reservation. I believe it provides by far the best value among registrars. Not that there is anything horribly wrong with GoDaddy or NameCheap – I’ve used both in the past – or any of the other major registrars. It’s just that with NameSilo I get: Lower cost; free-forever whois privacy; free domain protection; no hidden fees; and no BS marketing games. I am not affiliated with NameSilo, by the way, just a customer. I can’t offer you a coupon or other discount, and if I did you shouldn’t trust me. best value among registrars

As I write this post, GoDaddy is running a special on dot com names for $2.99 each, reduced from their $14.99 regular price. I might be tempted to register with GoDaddy and move later to NameSilo. I select a name and go to checkout. GoDaddy automatically adds Whois Privacy at $7.99/year. Already the drastically discounted GoDaddy price is higher than the NameSilo regular price of $8.99. It gets much worse. To get the $2.99 first year price I have to pre-pay for a second year at the regular price of $14.99. And, just to twist the knife, GoDaddy adds on an ICANN fee, which is already included in the regular NameSilo price. Total for two years:

GoDaddy special sale NameSilo regular price
Domain Registration: $2.99 + $14.99 = $17.98 $8.99 + $8.99 = $17.98
Whois Privacy: $7.99 + $ 7.99 = $15.98 Included
ICANN Fee: $0.18 + $ 0.18 = $ 0.36 Included
Domain Defender: N/A Included
TOTAL: $34.32 $17.98

It still gets worse. When I decide to transfer to NameSilo, I have to deal with the lengthy and burdensome domain transfer process. If I do not get the transfer completed in time, or if I forget to do it, I am stuck paying the much higher GoDaddy prices for another year, while also enduring GoDaddy’s notoriously aggressive up-selling BS.

Under no circumstance would I register a domain name through my hosting provider. Many hosting providers offer a free domain name registration as an incentive to sign up for hosting. In this case free is just not worth it. My domain name is my brand. It is much too important to put at unnecessary risk. If I have issues with my hosting provider – or if they have issues with me – I need to be able to move on to a new provider, without the risk of my domain name being held hostage.

Update 2018-10-27: Interesting. CloudFlare is getting in to the registrar business, promising no-markup pricing with free whois privacy and 2FA. They are rolling out the new service in waves, I am due in mid-November. Switching registrars is a time-consuming pain in the unmentionables, and NameSilo has been awfully good to me, so it would take quite a bit to get me to switch. I may just move a domain there to try it out though.

WP hosting

In discussions of web hosting, I frequently encounter the advice to use the best hosting you can afford; after all “You get what you pay for.” Well … While that can sometimes be true, to put it on a pedestal as unquestionable dogma is just silly. It is in fact easy to overpay for most anything, including hosting. My preference is to use the most affordable WP hosting that meets my requirements.

affordable WP hosting that meets my requirements

Hosting selection also depends on the nature of the site. For a business site I want rock-solid reliability and timely, knowledgeable help service. For a just-for-fun personal site I might settle for a higher risk of down-time and less-helpful service to save a few bucks.

Research to find the right web host can be exasperating. Fake reviews and affiliate link spam abound. I recently stumbled onto one site that seems honest, well-researched, and kept up to date. If you are in the market for web hosting, I think Research as a Hobby is a great place to start – in spite of the affiliate links and annoying pop-overs.

My must-have requirements for shared web hosting, in no particular order …

For a business site I add …

  • High uptime in practice, not just claimed or “guaranteed” (I monitor with UptimeRobot and StatusCake)
  • Timely, knowledgeable help service
  • Automated backups
  • Security: Firewall, intrusion prevention, spam filtering

I look for the lowest cost that provides all of the above.

For personal sites I use Buyshared.net. The base plan meets all my must-haves, and cost is an incredibly low $5/year – yes, per year! Speed has been very good. Uptime has been good with a couple of exceptions. Help service … well, I wasn’t expecting great help service. I have experienced a few glitches in the admin backend, and there is a frustrating lack of documentation. Overall, it works for my less-important sites and keeps my pocketbook happy.

For business sites I recently switched to SiteGround. It meets my requirements and offers some nice extras like built-in caching, automatic WP and plugin updates, and a version of the 6G firewall optimized for the SiteGround environment. To date, I am very happy with SiteGround. Cost will increase substantially after the initial teaser year, so I may revisit this topic in a few months.

Update 2017-10-21:  As expected, revisiting. In the process of moving my business sites to MDDHosting. SiteGround rocks – had a great experience there – just a bit pricey for me after the first year teaser rate.  MDDHosting – as best I can tell based on credible sources and my own short experience – rocks too.  BuyShared also rocks, in its own way – super inexpensive, speedy, decent uptime, kinda on my own support-wise – great place for my personal sites.

Update 2018-01-26:  My number of personal websites reached a point where it made sense to use a reseller account rather than individual shared hosting accounts. Wow – what a difference. Whereas I experienced an occasional technical glitch on BuyShared’s shared hosting, technical issues on reseller were pandemic. I never knew what would break when, and some things like DNS and email on most of my sites never worked at all. Rather than move everything back to individual shared hosting I decided to simplify my life and stick to one ultra-reliable host for all my sites. I now have everything – personal and business sites – in an MDDHosting reseller account, and am finding it a great experience. A bit harder on my pocketbook, but a lot easier on my sanity.