Jan 152009
 

The other day we had a couple servers made inaccessible for over 9 hours. It was a disaster. The servers themselves were fine, but the data center where they live had a power outage. From what little information I have gathered, the power outage caused networking and router failures, so that even when power was restored either through back up or primary source repair, the server bank where we had a couple servers remained off line.

To compound matters the company that supplies these servers were not reachable by phone (constant busy signal) so I couldn’t even communicate with them to learn what had happened and get an ETA on return of service that I  could pass on to my customers who called and emailed me throughout the day and evening. Needless to say, I lost a lot of sleep that night. I have still to get a full accounting or reassurance from the server provider that they have things under control. I have been with them for years and have had very good service, excellent response time if a server does go down, and generally good conmmunication. But this incident has caused me to rethink the who relationship. Moving servers is a real PITA. But I have done it several times in the past due to poor service so I am considering doing it again. In any service business, communication is vital. When that breaks down, trust is lost.

In order to improve communication with our own clients, I am working on a couple things. The first is a new blog hosted at WordPress.com where I can post information about our hosting service.  Even if all our servers go dark the blog will not. Of course there is no guarantee WordPress.com won’t go down. Anything can happen.

Update: I have heard from the owner of my supplier at the data center. It seems some of the communication failure was on my end. My Gmail account coincidental to this incident decided to send all their messages to me to the spam folder. What? And Gmail is supposed to be so reliable. Although their own mail server was down for quite a while as well. Anyway, here is some of what he said:

As you are aware there was a major power outage yesterday at the data center we are located in. Even though our data center has a back-up battery system and back-up generators, there was apparently a failed capacitor bank that prevented either the batteries or the generators from helping. We will be learning more about what happened tomorrow when the data center owners provide us with an RFO or Reason For Outage document.

I am assured they are taking steps to this won’t happen again.

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Mar 022008
 

Last Monday Erik V. Kirk, famed SoHum blogger, spoke at my Rotary Club (I can’t believe I’m in a Rotary Club, but there I am). His talk was a fun mixture of tech naiveté and insights in to how blogging information can spread and come back to the blogger in unexpected ways. What he thought was an obscure journal of life and ideas in an obscure part of the world, seems to have been found by thousands of people and become a hotbed for conversation on local and global issues. His approach to the talk was just right for our group, most of whom, while extremely bright, have not had the opportunity to learn about the power, opportunities and pitfalls of blogging for fun and/or profit.

I’ve recently seen an increased interest in the use of blogs by small business. And in response to a direct question from one client on how to get started, I offered the following advice (more or less):

Blogging can be fun, but it can also be time consuming. Blogging isn’t for everyone and not for every business. First, you have to like to write. Second, you should have something to say about your industry that people would want to read, or something special you want to express to your customers. Third, it can tricky to get set up and keep the software up to date if you install it yourself. This NY Times article puts some perspective on blogging for small business.

Using a blogging tool as opposed to just posting content on a web site takes advantage of the way the data gets propagated on the web. Blog posts have a way of reaching far more people than static web pages and draw a wide audience to your site. How this works may be subject for another day.

Basically, there are two routes to go:
1) Using a hosted solution
2) Installing blogging software on your own domain

Each has its own advantages/disadvantages.

The two biggest advantages of using a hosted solution is that you can get your blog up and running in 5-10 minutes. Software is all managed by the hosting company so when it’s updated you don’t have to do anything, and if you use blogger.com (a Google company) or WordPress.com it’s free.

The disadvantages of this solution is that you have limited control over features and how it looks. You are restricted by using the available templates and plugins (chunks of code that you can install to extend the functionality of your blog). I am not familiar with blogger features as I have never used it. But I know many, many people do. I’m not sure how flexible its system is for changing the look and adding features, but I assume, with a little knowledge of HTML and CSS some things can be changed. Also, Wordrpess.com does have a commercial version where you pay a minimal amount and get more features/flexibility.

The other disadvantage of this approach is that it’s not on your domain. All you can do is link to it. So, a link to your blog takes your site visitors away from your main site.

Solution #2 solves all the disadvantages of solution #1, but of course, introduces other issues. There are lots of free and commercial applications that can be installed on your own account. I don’t intend to review them all here. A good place to find options and reviews of free software is OpenSourceCMS.com. I’ve used the free WordPress software for years and really like the wide range of tools and the easy of modifying the look and feel.

By installing your own software you can make it do a lot more because you can control how it looks, what plugins you use, etc. You can even integrate it directly in to your site in a nice, dynamic way. For example, we built a site for Adventure’s Edge that uses WordPress for its blogging software. The back end is exactly like a standard WordPress installation. But the front end is completely integrated in to their site. Although they aren’t using it fully yet, (a new team just took over the store), the latest 3 headlines from all posts will appear on the home page with links to the full blog post. Also, if they assign a post to a category that corresponds to a department, the post’s headline will show up on the specific department’s page as well. They intend to use the blog to keep their customers up to date on new products, sales, and events at the store.

The disadvantages are that this all has to be set up by a developer so there are costs involved. And if something goes wrong you or your developer needs to fix it. Upgrades have to be done as security patches and new versions are released. However, there is now a plugin for WordPress that makes this very simple – just a few clicks and you’re done.

If the blog is intended to draw traffic to your main site, it can be better to have it integrated with your site rather than just having a link to your main site from a hosted blog at blogger.com or wordpress.com.

Another alternative is to use WordPress or something like Drupal (a very popular Content Mangement System which includes a blogging module) for building your entire site. Again, though, unless you have experience with this software, these options are going to require a web developer to get them set up. Both packages are relatively easy to get up and running in minutes. But customizing the design and functionality can be complicated and requires a good deal of planning, configuration and often some programming.

While ultimately, I believe installing blogging software on your own site is the way to go, if you are thinking about blogging and just want to try it out, the best option would be go to blogger or wordpress, sign up for an account and give it a try.

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