The hosts, they are a changin’

01-Feb-2006

SupaNames Rant - The quick version


My site has been hosted with SupaNames since its humble beginnings back in 2002. When it was a LAMP [1] site, everything was fine, but since upgrading to their Windows .NET service, I have had problem, after problem, after problem. Added to the fact that their support staff seem ill-qualified to support .NET hosting, and at times can be accusatory and downright rude, I have become less than happy with SupaNames' "service". On one occasion my website was out of action for over 7.5 hours due to their server mismanagement.

In a nutshell, I think SupaNames are an ok, cheap solution for LAMP hosting, but an awful provider of Windows .NET hosting. I will personally be avoiding them like the plague in future, and I would advise others to do the same.

I will be moving my hosting to another UK provider, called LiquidSix. I don't know too much about them, but from what I've read they seem to understand .NET, they offer .NET 2.0 hosting (SupaNames do not at present), and they cost less than half the price I was paying SupaNames.

Fingers crossed I'll have a better experience with these guys...

The long and detailed version


SupaNames are the only company to have hosted mrceri.co.uk so far. Back in the early days, mrceri.co.uk was written in PHP, and ably/cheaply hosted on one of their low cost Linux packages.

In late 2003, when I started writing a lot of ASP.NET in my day job, I thought it would be a good idea to switch mrceri.co.uk over to .NET too. SupaNames had recently released a fairly good value Windows package, "Windows Start", so I upgraded to it early 2004.

That's when the problems started...

SupaNames seem to be pretty good at hosting small-scale LAMP sites, but they simply do not have a clue when it comes to Windows hosting. A common pattern with ASP.NET websites is to have a top-level exception handler which traps exceptions generated elsewhere on the site. The user gets redirected to a friendly "something went wrong" error page, and the developer, i.e. me, gets emailed a detailed description of the exception to help diagnose and fix the problem.

Terrible MySQL connectivity


For a couple of reasons [2] I wrote my own web stats control for mrceri.co.uk. This means that every time a page is served, some code gets executed, and an insert is made into a MySQL database. That provides a lot of opportunity for errors to occur, and exceptions to be thrown, and thrown they were!

The main problem involves MySQL connectivity. Ever since I started hosting the ASP.NET version of my site with SupaNames I get the following exception generated several times a day:
	ERROR [HY000] [MySQL][ODBC 3.51 Driver]
Can't connect to MySQL server on 'hostname' (10061)

Some days I have literally hundreds of these errors. I should stress that this isn't an error in the code, thousands more of these calls are completed successfully; SupaNames obviously have a problem with a flaky connection or traffic bottleneck between their web and database servers.

Poor server management


The other exception which occurs with depressing frequency is:
	System.Web.HttpException: An unhandled exception occurred during compilation
using the CodeDomProvider 'Microsoft.CSharp.CSharpCodeProvider'. Please
review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it
originated in the code.
---> System.IO.IOException: There is not enough space on the disk.

Now you don't need to be a .NET programmer to take a stab at diagnosing that little beauty. Again, not related to my code, sometimes my site will sit unchanged for weeks without errors, then suddenly hundreds of these bad boys start pouring into my inbox.

This error indicates that the ASP.NET website is broken, but the server is still alive and kicking, as is the asp.net worker process (indeed it would have to be to send the exception email). So server monitoring will show the server as being up and healthy, static HTML sites will work fine, as will PHP sites, or any other server-side technology not affected by this error. ASP.NET websites on the other hand, will NOT work.

SupaNames only monitor the health of the server, and the asp.net worker process, not customer websites themselves. This is totally appropriate for budget hosting, but the problem is that SupaNames do not even appear to have their own test website, so the only time they learn of such an error is when they are informed by a customer! I have had to do this on several occasions - minutes after sending my email, my website miraculously "comes back to life" - I'm guessing the tried and tested "reboot the server" technique being SupaNames' troubleshooting tool of choice.

On occasion my site has been down for 7.5 hours due to this error. I don't believe I have an uptime SLA with SupaNames, but 7.5 hours of broken website due to an ill-configured server is pretty disgraceful by anyone's standards.

Worse still, this problem hasn’t occurred only once, or twice – it occurs all the time.

Terrible support


Before launching into a clichéd tirade against their frontline support, I must concede that they have always been very quick, usually responding to email queries within the hour. And back when I was hosting a PHP site, they were generally helpful and courteous.

Since moving to .NET hosting they have been similarly rapid in response, but otherwise totally useless. I generally have to diagnose and explain their server problems to them myself, which they eventually fix with a reboot, and no explanation of what caused the error (I suspect they rarely know).

My most recent encounter with them was most unpleasant - it took me half a dozen emails to convince them that my site was broken for 7.5 hours, for which they didn't even apologise, or offer any kind of explanation. Along the way they tried to fob me off with feeble excuses, implying that I was simply "wrong", and that the site wasn’t broken. Despite the fact that I provided them with third-party server monitoring proof (incidentally the same monitoring service they themselves use [3], so you'd think they'd trust it!), and other evidence based upon the raw IIS logs for the site, and other 3rd party domain checking tools [4]. The only response they could muster to my evidence was, "it is doubtful that your server was down for the timescale you mention". Arghh!!! The frustration!!!

It wasn't like I was asking for a refund, or trying to get something out of them. I work in the industry, I know mistakes are made. I just wanted some acknowledgment that my site had been affected for the specified time, that the fault was theirs, an apology, and some reassurance that measures would be put in place to stop it happening in future.

Incidentally this error has occurred several times since, but I don't even bother emailing them now, it's simply not worth the stress.

Update:


After several days recently of suffering the "Not enough space on disk" error described above I emailed SupaNames support, informing them of the error. Their advice to me was:

"You shouldn't be using 'Default.aspx' - use 'index.aspx' instead", and "overview your coding" !?!

As anyone with a grain of knowledge regarding ASP.NET knows, 'Default.aspx' is the 'correct' way of doing things, certainly the default naming convention when building a site using Microsoft tools such as Visual Studio. Regardless, whether to use "Default", "Index", or any other default document name of your choice is a simple IIS configuration. Furthermore there was/is nothing wrong with the coding on my site, what little there is, the error being due to the ASP.NET worker process not being able to compile the site DLLs on the server, due to no disk access (either bacause of a full hard drive, as the exception suggested, or bad write permissions for the ASP user; could be any number of reasons).

Anyway, 10 minutes after I sent my email, and without me touching a line of code, suddenly the site was miraculously working again. The old SupaNames "reboot server" strategy me thinks...

Conclusion


Hosting is a competitive marketplace, and after this level of annoyance my only choice is to vote with my feet, and take my business elsewhere. Some might say that you get what you pay for, but remember SupaNames seem to win hosting awards left right and centre, so it would be easy to get fooled into thinking they provide a good service. I can only hope that this rant helps others avoid making the same mistake.

Links


Two minutes with google suggests I'm not the only one to have had problems with SupaNames:

www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?threadid=158989
www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=472705
www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=169731
www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=274359
www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=226600

Great. Even as I'm writing this my live site is broken:

Supanames Screw Up Again



Update: November 2006:


Shortly after writing this article I moved my hosting from SupaNames to LiquidSix. I've been with them for around 9 months now, and so far I've enjoyed an excellent service, both in terms of technical stability, and customer support. I'm happy to recommend them.

Notes


[1] LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl

[2] When mrceri.co.uk was a LAMP site, I had no access to the raw Apache logs. When I moved the site to Windows, the IIS logs were only kept for 7 days.

[3] www.server-monitoring.co.uk - a great service, highly recommended.

[4] www.checkdns.net - very useful for confirming errors are not restricted to your local network.