The Importance of a Good Web Server - Technologist
Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

The Importance of a Good Web Server

On Saturday, August 3, 2013, tragedy struck. At some point on that fateful day, the web server that hosts my personal and professional (non-FindLaw) sites, went down. Over the last twenty or so years, I've dealt with more than a few server crashes and server migration issues. This was, by far, the worst.

Ordinarily, when such a crash occurs, the hosting company scrambles to solve the problem. If your site is down for more than an hour or two, they'll typically notify you and provide an estimated time frame. The longest outage I've ever experienced was a bit more than three hours.

Until Saturday, that is. And by Saturday, I mean, the last five days.

Redundancy is Golden

The most important feature for a web server is data redundancy. Hard drives, and computers in general, crash. It's in their nature. Any proper web server or cloud storage company should be creating "redundant" copies of your data, either on backup hard drives or on other servers. This ensures that when your server dies, they can either flip a switch to activate the copy on the other server, or after an hour or two, restore the data from the backup hard drives.

I'm not convinced that such procedures were followed with my soon-to-be-former hosting company. At most, such an outage would take one of their servers offline for a few hours. Instead, users, in a makeshift support group on the company's Facebook page, reported outages on multiple servers.

The company remained silent, other than case-by-case promises of "a few hours." Last night, after five days, they finally updated their Facebook page to apologize and claim that one server, and one backup, went haywire. True or not, that conflicts with users' accounts and doesn't excuse the non-communication.

The Importance of Uptime

Over the last five days, not only have my websites been down, but even more importantly, so has the email address used for my law practice. No emails, to or from, my clients or opposing counsel, have been passed through the servers. On the bright side, neither has the daily deluge of CLE spam. As a part-time practitioner, the downtime was alleviated with a few phone calls.

For someone practicing full-time, the consequences could be far more dire. And imagine all of the lost clients, who would come in through your wonderful website, who are now lost to other firms during the downtime. 

Lessons Learned

What is the lesson here? Avoid hosts with stupid names? HostLatte, despite the odd moniker, had pretty stellar reviews before I signed up. One of the industry leaders, HostGator, has an equally absurd name, so the funny name criteria is nearly useless.

When picking a host for your firm, check their redundancy plans. Check their uptime figures (even though they'll all claim 99 percent uptime!). And if all of that sounds overwhelming, you might consider turning to a company that handles lawyer marketing (cough, cough, FindLaw) to handle it for you.

The least important factor should be cost. Though I saved hundreds of dollars by switching to HostLatte six months ago, had I been practicing full-time, and been reliant on my website to bring in clients, it would have cost far more than that over the last five days of silence.

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