When Web hosts fail and domains disappear

How to avoid the unthinkable: Your domain and Web host go belly-up, taking your Web presence with them

James wrote to Gripe Line late last week in something of a panic.

"I renewed my domain and hosting contract last month with EMC Telecom for a two-year period," he says. "Yesterday, my domain disappeared, and my domain setup tool is inaccessible. Email to tech support goes unacknowledged."

[ Also on InfoWorld: Gripe Line readers note a disturbing trend in "Defective hardware, deteriorating customer service" | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

Bad enough was the sinking feeling James had of impending professional disaster. Worse was when he hit the phone to find out what was going on.

"Calls are now greeted with a message that says, 'That phone number has been discontinued,'" he reports.

I also felt that "uh oh" sensation when reading James' note. After all, it contained every red flag to suggest his provider had packed up in the middle of the night and hoofed it to avoid creditors. Nothing is worse for a customer, as it leaves them holding the bag. It's very hard to get satisfaction from a company that has disbanded and whose principals are in hiding.

"What are my options?" asks James. "Is there any way to get my money -- or my domain -- back?"

The company's Website was not live, so I checked with the Better Business Bureau, where the company gets an F rating, though not for a checkered past of bad acts; rather, the BBB didn't have much info on the outfit. I found some buzz on Twitter about other people's Websites and email going down -- along with the resultant fears that the company had gone AWOL.

I was commiserating with James and working the Net for answers when a Google search on a company principal turned up a blog entry from one of the company's resellers. The author had heard from the company, and the news was reassuring: It had suffered a major outage but hoped to be back up soon.

"The fact that their phone number has been discontinued may be due to them putting all eggs in one basket and using IP telephony?" James guesses.

Indeed, James' Website and email were back up again late that night, and by the next day, EMC Telecom posted this statement on its (once again up and running) Web site:

We experienced a major network outage at our datacenter. This happened at approx. about 2pm MST AZ time yesterday [February 24] and lasted for about 25 hours. Our internet connection to the datacenter was disabled and we lost connection to the internet.

All data, server, vps's, email and sites should be back online at this time with no data loss or interuption. [sic]

We ask that you check your services with us and let us know if you have any issues still that are not related to the last 25 hours of downtime. If so, please respond with the details of the issue and we will investigate it.

If you need to more details on the actual outage, we can only legally at this time say we had a major network outage. We are not able to give any other details now.

That's not the most reassuring explanation, but at least James dodged a bullet he was sure had already hit him. I'm sharing James' brush with disaster because there is a lesson in it.

I'm certain that all of you -- of course you do! -- back up the content of your Websites. But consider for a moment what would happen to your domain name if the company that hosts the site disappeared in the night. The answer depends on where you bought the domain, but it's worth thinking about. If you purchased the domain and hosting service as a package, it's possible the company hosting the site also registered the domain.

If James registered his domain with his Web host (and it sounds like he did), and it went belly up, leaving customers' domains to languish, he might have to wait untill his own domain registration expired -- or do a lot of legwork tracking it down -- before he could access it again. In fact, there is a compelling account of someone who learned this the hard way at WebHostingTalk.com.

If James registered his domain with one of the big names -- GoDaddy or Register.com, for example -- and turned to EMC Telecom only for Web hosting, his crisis would have been annoying, entailing loss of his hosting fees, finding a new host, redirecting his domain to his new host, uploading his site backups, and so on. But it would've fallen short of a crisis.

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "When Web hosts fail and domains disappear," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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