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Keeping an Eye Out When Sites Go Down 77

Posted by timothy
from the he-said-go-down dept.
miller60 writes "Are major web sites going down more often? Or are outages simply more noticeable? The New York Times looks at the recent focus on downtime at services like Twitter, and the services that have sprung up to monitor outages. When a site goes down, word spreads rapidly, fueled by blogs and forums. But there have also been a series of outages with real-world impact, affecting commodities exchanges, thousands of web sites and online stores."
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Keeping an Eye Out When Sites Go Down

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  • Short version... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MRe_nl (306212) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:15PM (#24076049)

    Is downtime really more frequent? Or is it just more visible?
    The answer is both.

    • by arth1 (260657) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:25PM (#24076123) Homepage Journal

      I think monopolization plays a role too.
      Back when people jumped between Altavista, Hotbot, Jeeves and other engines, one of them going down wasn't so bad -- you just used another, and a day later, you wouldn't even remember that one of them had been down. But these days, everyone and his dog uses Google, and if Google goes down, people won't know what to do. Similar for other sites and hubs -- they've become too big, and users have become too reliant on them.

      So even if uptime has increased, the impact of downtime has become larger, in part due to the larger reliance on single systems.

    • The answer is both.

      Perhaps. But in my personal experience the big names are reliable enough for me to continue to use their services. Seems like a slow news day or someone wanted to stroke Alex Payne's ego for whatever reason as his claim to fame doesn't seem to all that worth a write up by the NY Times.

    • This is just the pre-story to "ISP's point to recent outages as proof that P2P Traffic is causing death of internet"
    • http://www.thewebsiteisdown.com

  • In my (admittedly anecdotal) experience, major websites are remarkably UP 100% of the time. I've never seen Google go down even once in the past few years.
    • Re:no... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Nick Fel (1320709) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:58PM (#24076355)
      I've seen Google down. Not completely unreachable, but not working. It was terrifying.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        Just because you searched for "sex" and "porn" and didn't get any results but linkpages and squatters doesn't mean the search engine's broken, ya know? :)

    • Re:no... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Koiu Lpoi (632570) <koiulpoi@TOKYOgmail.com minus city> on Sunday July 06, 2008 @03:01PM (#24076379)
      Agreed. Google and Slashdot are the two (depending on my mood) sites I test to see if I have an internet connection. If I can't reach one, I don't even bother testing the other - I assume it's on my end, and I've not yet been wrong.
    • by Fumus (1258966)
      Not that long ago google and sourceforge were down for a moment because of some ISP problems IIRC. I thought my internet was down or something because I couldn't get to slashdot, nor google.
    • by Winckle (870180)

      About 3 or 4 years ago google had a DNS issue which meant it was unreachable via domain name, and only by typing in the actual IP address.

      It was pretty weird to see google.com not responding, I initially assumed that my modem was having connection problems, but then I read on the SA forums about the problem.

      Very weird to be without google.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:19PM (#24076081)

    So they're more likely to suffer downtime as any one of the many pieces can break, causing it to all go down. Look at a site like Drudge Report that gets massive traffic, but is really VERY simple to run. Then look at a site like Twitter or YouTube or something like that, which has many more services to operate and keep running together.

  • The twitter factor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ximenes (10) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:24PM (#24076111)

    Twitter's infrastructure is notoriously poorly thought out, and I sort of doubt they employed any systems administrators (or service engineers, or operations engineers, or whatever) up until recently.

    I think the barrier to entry from an engineering standpoint has been lowered such that you can more easily make a site that appears to be pretty decent and attracts an audience. What is often missing is the behind-the-scenes work which ensures that the service is:

    - Deployed properly, with testing and staging environments that actually mirror production.
    - Fault-tolerant at every practical level. This gets expensive, so you see datacenter failures take down large swaths of sites who don't have multiple locations.
    - Constantly monitored, including performance metrics, to find issues quickly or ever before they happen.

    This is the kind of work that always seems to take a back seat to development due to resource constraints, but it really needs to occur in tandem with the development process.

    If you don't design a site from the ground up to be redundant and highly performing, its pretty difficult to flip a switch and make it that way later. Which is basically what Twitter has found out. Whether or not this mentality is taking over the Interworld is another story though.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Twitter made a big mistake by basing their technology around Ruby on Rails.

      Ruby on Rails is, of course, great for CRUD-style websites. It makes development lighting fast, and easy as sin. Twitter doesn't exactly fall into that category. Although Ruby on Rails is flexible enough to develop a small-scale version of the Twitter application, it just isn't capable of scaling.

      They really need to be looking into Erlang [erlang.org]. Erlang is perfect for the type of software [algorithm.com.au] they need to provide the service they offer (see eja [ejabberd.im]

    • by jnovek (1002801) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:47PM (#24076281)

      "If you don't design a site from the ground up to be redundant and highly performing, its pretty difficult to flip a switch and make it that way later. Which is basically what Twitter has found out."

      And really, that's OK.

      Sites like Twitter are popping up precisely because the bar is very low to get your idea out on the 'net and compete. Sure, the cost in dollars and person hours is much higher to refactor for stability later, but would Twitter have even come into existence if that was a requirement from the start? Would its founders have considered it a worthwhile risk?

      Jason

      • by ximenes (10)

        I agree that there is a trade-off here. If you spend too much, take too long and aren't 'agile' enough then your site will be old news by the time you get it out of the gate. No one cares, and its all pointless.

        On the other hand, if you don't spend any time worrying about the future you will be totally unprepared if you reach your goal of user interest. Then the site doesn't work sufficiently well to retain users, no one cares and its all pointless.

        I think part of the overall issue is that while there are n

      • by dubl-u (51156) * <[ot.atop] [ta] [2107893252]> on Sunday July 06, 2008 @05:14PM (#24077429)

        Sites like Twitter are popping up precisely because the bar is very low to get your idea out on the 'net and compete. Sure, the cost in dollars and person hours is much higher to refactor for stability later, but would Twitter have even come into existence if that was a requirement from the start? Would its founders have considered it a worthwhile risk?

        That's a common after-the-fact excuse for not thinking at all about performance, but I've concluded that it's mostly bullshit.

        Sure, if you consider these questions up front and know what you're doing, it's completely possible to defer most of the work until things start to pick up. That's a very legitimate business decision, and if you get a big surprise in your growth curve, it's possible to get crushed. But with a little load testing, responsible development practices, and a little forethought, you've got a very good chance of avoiding a disaster. And none of that needs to be a big barrier to just getting something out.

        On the other hand, if you just don't think about those questions at all, building things willy nilly with no preparation for refactoring and growth down the road, then that's just idiotic. You are in effect betting that you will fail, in that your site will work only if it doesn't get popular. And with something like Twitter, where the network effect is king and you could only make money with a shitload of traffic, massive growth is the only way to succeed.

        From what I can tell, Twitter is firmly in that second camp. They've been going for nearly two years, and they've been shaky for most of it. One black eye from a sudden surge is acceptable, and for some is even a badge of honor. But more than a year of load-based suckage, to the point where you are an international joke, is a sign of plain incompetence. Although it hasn't killed Twitter, it has killed other businesses, and Twitter is not out of the woods yet.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)

        It might even be better savings that way, but the way people talk about how Twitter is set up, it sounds like the people that set it up didn't even know what they were doing, like maybe they dropped out of school halfway through the database class. Given that they are still having problems, I think it's reasonable to suggest that they still don't know what they are doing, even though their VC funding should have allowed them to hire enough qualified people to fix the problem. The way it is now, I wonder i

      • by Doctor O (549663)

        And really, that's OK.

        In general, it would be OK, but Twitter having performance problems is something I just can't understand at all.

        I mean, look at it. What does it do that couldn't be scaled by putting up web site load balancing, a DB cluster, and some clever caching?

        I'm not trolling, I'm genuinely interested. Someone please enlighten me. I'm building web applications for almost ten years now and have no idea how they manage to perform so badly. And no, "RoR doesn't scale, n00b!" does not count. There are quite some examples

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is the kind of work that always seems to take a back seat to development due to resource constraints, but it really needs to occur in tandem with the development process.

      That's not true. As the Twitter, Digg, Flickr, etc. examples clearly show, it's much more important to appear "pretty decent" when you corner the market than anything else. The cost of doing it properly from the get go can not be shouldered by a company with an unproven concept, neither time- nor money-wise. Most of these services are 99.9% user base and 0.1% implementation. If you can get the users with a rough sketch, it is then much easier to get the resources for even a complete rewrite of the server so

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ximenes (10)

        I agree to an extent, but I also think that not all of these sites will survive their re-implementation periods in the face of better-designed competitors. Flickr, for instance, is internally a mess. I presume part of this is due to poor initial implementation, but its further compounded by a need to Yahooize it at every level.

        I presume Twitter will encounter a mass exodus at some point, as its users are likely to be very keen to move on to the next big (and possibly more reliable) thing.

        Every time a site i

    • by msimm (580077)

      I think the barrier to entry from an engineering standpoint has been lowered such that you can more easily make a site that appears to be pretty decent and attracts an audience.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Sites are increasingly complicated applications with a great set of increasingly complex tools available to help you bring your ideas to the public. Of course this doesn't help so much with the basics you've mentioned and to make things even more complicated the requirements for scaling are beco

      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        By the time you get big enough to really have to worry about scalability more than just turning on caching, you ought to be able to produce enough revenue to reimplement the site. If not, obviously you aren't relevant (or you aren't clever enough.) :)
        • by msimm (580077)
          That's the idea. Although I'd hope that you put at least some considerations into things, planning and the real world don't always match up perfectly. More so, because a lot of the technology that you'll find yourself deploying is either new or to be developed in-house.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)
            Another reason to do it that way is that six months is more than enough time for some major evolution in web platforms. You could turn around and blink and a new major version could be out that gives you literally an order of magnitude more scalability.
        • by dubl-u (51156) * <[ot.atop] [ta] [2107893252]> on Sunday July 06, 2008 @05:34PM (#24077575)

          By the time you get big enough to really have to worry about scalability more than just turning on caching, you ought to be able to produce enough revenue to reimplement the site. If not, obviously you aren't relevant (or you aren't clever enough.) :)

          I've heard this theory a lot. With regrettable frequency, it's part of noob entrepreneur business plans. I see three big problems with it.

          1. If a sudden surge in popularity is forcing you to work on scalability, that's exactly the point that you don't want to work on scalability. Finally, people care about your site! So now you want to give them cool new features regularly, so they don't go away again. Plus, they discover (and create) problems that you need to solve with new code.
          2. Scaling is much harder to do when you're behind than when you're ahead. If you're already creaking under load, you run around doing a lot of quick fixes that do nothing for the long term. All of the budget you planned for that rebuild can quickly get eaten up just keeping things from catching on fire.
          3. Per-user margins have been steadily declining for pretty much the life of the web. Decreased hardware and bandwidth costs mask some of that. And the vast growth of the internet audience makes up for the rest. But over time you have needed larger and larger numbers of people to have a viable web business. So you need to serve a lot more people to support a staff than you did early on.

          Twitter is a good example of all of these problems. They surely started out saying they would worry about scaling later. Then later came, and they had other things to do: new features, dealing with abusers, setting up a customer support infrastructure. Their quick scaling fixes kept their heads barely above water, but they didn't do much for the long term. And they are still in the "grow big, grow fast" stage, so they don't have any revenue and would rather wait a while longer to deal with that.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            And they are still in the "grow big, grow fast" stage, so they don't have any revenue and would rather wait a while longer to deal with that.

            The problem isn't what is included in the plan, but what isn't. Google understands that sometimes things don't scale as well as you hoped, which is probably the real reason for the eternal beta status of so many google products; they can just close new subscriptions any time. Use the same model when the pressure is on and it will keep the fires burning low while you work on the replacement.

            If you can make the thing work fast from day one, that's great. But a lot of these sites would never have even existed

            • by dubl-u (51156) *

              Google understands that sometimes things don't scale as well as you hoped, which is probably the real reason for the eternal beta status of so many google products; they can just close new subscriptions any time. Use the same model when the pressure is on and it will keep the fires burning low while you work on the replacement.

              This sounds plausible, but it is often a path to failure.

              You can get away with growth limits during an early private beta phase, but turning away interested users when you catch fire with the general public is asking for trouble. Many of them will never come back. My pals at Google tell me that they now see GMail's slow-growth approach as a giant mistake, something that cost them lots of users that they have not so far managed to get back.

              If you can make the thing work fast from day one, that's great. But a lot of these sites would never have even existed in the first place if it weren't so easy to get them up and running (if not scalably) in the first place.

              That is a false dichotomy. Doing all the scaling work up front is ind

          • by Builder (103701)

            See, I'd hire you based on that comment - well put.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nabsltd (1313397)

      Fault-tolerant at every practical level. This gets expensive, so you see datacenter failures take down large swaths of sites who don't have multiple locations.

      I work on a site that has pretty much every conceivable fault-tolerance you can get short of multiple sites: multiple separate ISPs leading to router and firewall hardware that is redundant for each ISP along with multiple load-balanced front-end web servers connected to load-balanced database and file servers (with every server running Solaris). Everything has multiple power supplies connected to different mains feeds and different generators. All of this is frightfully expensive and heavily monitored.

      Ye

      • by ximenes (10)

        I agree, 'enterprise' solutions are often more trouble than they're worth.

        There are a lot of solutions that look good on paper and then turn out to be serious pains in the ass in practice, or have a failure mode that is actually worse than the common method (but perhaps less likely).

        One of my biggest gripes about systems administration is that there are all of these solutions to make life easier, but a lot of them are basically traps if you are running a large scale operation. Take centralized authenticatio

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      If you don't design a site from the ground up to be redundant and highly performing, its pretty difficult to flip a switch and make it that way later. Which is basically what Twitter has found out. Whether or not this mentality is taking over the Interworld is another story though.

      Truer words have never been spoken. I've successfully deployed an application that "bit" in the marketplace, and has grown rapidly. Since it's a niche product, you've never heard of it and probably never will. Nonetheless, we've b

  • by Anonymous Coward

    when the site you're using to monitor whether a site is down goes down?

    PANIC AT THE DISCO!!

  • by urbanriot (924981) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @02:55PM (#24076335)

    These days web pages comprise of multiple sources, often displaying content from multiple servers. Consider that 'back in the day' a web site was a static HTML file with multiple links. These days we have a 'site' linking to an image server, media server, advertising server, with sql backbones and other content providers. When one of these sites fail, often the whole works goes down.
     
    Personally, I don't notice an increased frequency in site downtimes with any of the services that I use and I don't feel this is newsworthy. Of course, I don't use Twitter so maybe that's why.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stanislav_J (947290)

      These days web pages comprise of multiple sources, often displaying content from multiple servers. Consider that 'back in the day' a web site was a static HTML file with multiple links. These days we have a 'site' linking to an image server, media server, advertising server, with sql backbones and other content providers. When one of these sites fail, often the whole works goes down.

      Which is also why many major sites are so slow to load on less than optimal connections (which many are still stuck with). Personally, I find all the bells and whistles distracting, complicating, and useless. It seems like sites compete to see how crowded and busy they can make their pages. Right up at the top of the list for me are sites that insist on displaying some stupid Flash screen (that adds nothing to the meat and potatoes content/function of the site) and give you no option for bypassing it. The I

  • Don't let the site go down, you'll put your eye out!!

  • Any type of load balancer in front of several web servers and application servers would prevent about 99.99% of downtimes. Thats of course barring poor coding and human error, but if you hire the rights guys, shouldn't be an issue.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @03:05PM (#24076411) Homepage

    What with the "software as a service" and "outsourcing system administration" fads, more sites are relying on other sites being up when they power up. This could become a problem in bringing a site back up after an outage. It's important to know which sites have "black start" capability; they can start up without any resources from the outside.

    You can save money by outsourcing Linux system administration to Tomsk, Russia, [intrice.com] or Lotus system administration to India. "Remote System Administration for your Lotus Notes/Domino Servers, Infrastructure" [maargasystems.com]. But can you then restart your data center from a cold start, when the offshore admin people can't yet get in?

    • by dubl-u (51156) * <[ot.atop] [ta] [2107893252]> on Sunday July 06, 2008 @05:45PM (#24077649)

      An important, related issue is the loss of local knowledge.

      If you did a web startup ten years ago, you pretty much had to hire a sysadmin. If you had a good one, they would yell at your developers about their retarded, unscalable designs. Having a scary bearded man threaten you with defenestration has its downsides, but it does give you an incentive to consider the impact to operations.

      The ever-lower cost of hosting is also a problem. If you tried to just throw $250k of hardware at a scaling issue back then, hopefully some executive would come by and ask some WTF-ish questions. (Unless you were at Boo.com or Webvan, natch.) But now, monthly rental on equivalent computing power is circa $400. Who'd bitch about that? Which allows you to really settle in to a totally unscalable architecture.

      • by thogard (43403)

        You forgot about the renewed trend in reusing other peoples code even when it complicates things. Just grab something off the web and link it in and hope it works. When you had a real sysadmin running the servers, the developers would write the few lines of code and not download a package and its dependencies just to avoid some work. It seems like all our new development seems to be mostly bogged down in getting everything that we didn't write to work with everything else we didn't write.

  • by FilterMapReduce (1296509) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @03:09PM (#24076431)

    Are major web sites going down more often?

    A bit more often now thanks to AVG [slashdot.org]?

    • no, but... (Score:2, Interesting)

      AVG is probably why we have this post this week. There were a lot of timeouts last week, although Grisoft was not the only problemo. For a while Virgin Media customers in the UK lost a couple of continents last week, with the U.S.A. and Australia dropping off the map. I had to read Pravda instead of Slashdot for an hour or two...

      My backup route actually worked fine and I was just in the middle of getting a squid proxy server of my own up and running when the network problems magically fixed themselves. Ther

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @03:10PM (#24076435) Journal
    We're not sure if the sites are already dead, or if the observers changed the outcome.
  • or... (Score:1, Troll)

    by owlnation (858981)
    ...is this just more sock puppetry for Twitter -- the singular most annoying website on the planet, and the next biggest has-been.

    Can we at least let one day go by without an article directly or indirectly about this POS?
    • Re:or... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Buran (150348) on Sunday July 06, 2008 @04:36PM (#24077085)

      So don't go there, don't click on links to it, and stop bitching about it. It only annoys you if you let it.

      Or do you just like to whine?

      Yes, they got a mention, because they can't fucking make the damn thing stop dying. If you want to be that prominent you need to get your shit together, or take the flak.

  • How do "major web site" (as in "in any way important or at least interesting") and "Twitter" belong in the same sentence?

    Now mod me flamebait and let's go on with our lives.

    • by dubl-u (51156) *

      How do "major web site" (as in "in any way important or at least interesting") and "Twitter" belong in the same sentence?

      They are at position 933 [alexa.com] on Alexa's list of the world's most visited websites. I'd guess that means circa 1.5m registered users, 2.5m visitors/month, and 7.5m page views/day. As a comparison, they have about 2-3x the reach of Slashdot [alexa.com].

      They may seem less well known to you than that because it's a social networking app that has spread mostly by word of mouth. If your friends use it, you won't be able to escape it; otherwise, it will seem irrelevant.

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        If your friends use it[Twitter], you won't be able to escape it; otherwise, it will seem irrelevant.

        My friends have been using it a lot. It still seems irrelevant.

      • I know people who use it. I also know people using myspace. But then again, I also know people eating at McD's...

        Just because "everyone" does it doesn't make it relevant. Actually, if anything, it makes it irrelevant.

        • by dubl-u (51156) *

          But then again, I also know people eating at McD's... Just because "everyone" does it doesn't make it relevant. Actually, if anything, it makes it irrelevant.

          You should get together with that other guy. He thinks it's irrelevant because nobody's using it. You think it's irrelevant because everybody's using it. Together, you could be contemptuous and dismissive of everything!

          What fun! It would be a party. Wait, no, it would be more like the opposite of a party. But either way, the rest of us would be better off.

  • halcyon_on_twitter: Is there anybody out there?

  • A century ago price of gasoline worried very few people. Today there are calls to nationalize [yahoo.com] oil-companies as "vital businesses" — somehow, they believe, nationalization improves things...

    How long until these same Commies (or whatever they'll choose to call themselves, when the label-du-jour gets just as discredited) call for nationalization of Google or Amazon?

    The nation can not exist without reliable search-engine, can it? We must nationalize Google to ensure fair and equal access to knowledg

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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