I’m belatedly writing this post to give a little more information on Blender Underground’s site outage beginning Thursday September 25th, 2008, and ending on Saturday, September 27th. I had intended to write more last week, but didn’t get around to it.
I’ve had some time to reflect on this and settle down a little — I’m not so angry about it anymore — but it’s still difficult to comprehend the actions taken by Bluehost Support: they pulled the plug on the entire Blender Underground site without any warning; and I have concluded that they won’t hesitate to do so again if they find it convenient.
UPDATE: If this post is deemed in violation of Bluehost’s TOS, it will be removed upon request.
Bluehost Support shuts down Blender Underground
I’m perfectly willing to be reasonable about all this. Blender Underground makes use of inexpensive hosting, provided by Bluehost, at practically a steal of a price. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a plethora of service providers offering tons of server space and transfer (bandwidth) for not very much money, especially if you pay one or two years in advance. Many, including Bluehost, are now offering unlimited space and transfer, in an attempt to remain competitive.
This, of course, is just marketing. Nobody can actually offer unlimited anything. However this is the message: we can give you as much space and transfer as you need. It’s a calculated tactic. When a hosting company offers supposedly inexhaustible service, they’re betting that a substantial majority of their customers will actually use very little, and they’re balancing that against the expectation that a small minority of sites will have higher demand.
Blender Underground is in the latter group. We undoubtedly have above average usage: over 155,000 pages served up in September, along with just under 500 gigabytes of transfer (not quite a record month). However even though our resource demand is on the high side, we almost never came close to exhausting our allocated bandwidth (3 terabytes of transfer as stated our account’s control panel). At most, we used between 1/5 and 1/6 of that amount, with reasonable daily spikes rarely exceeding 30 gigabytes in a 24 hour period.
To be fair, Bluehost support never claimed that Blender Underground was using too much bandwidth — it claimed that there were too many users connecting to the video tutorials simultaneously. However in case it isn’t obvious, this is to some degree an equivocation. You can’t deliver copious bandwidth unless enough users can connect to your site to access it.
Even with that being the case, I would have been fairly accepting and understanding if I had been contacted by Bluehost Support about the issue ahead of time. Even just a few hours of notice, with a request that I work with them on the issue — although inconvenient — would have been a welcome contrast to the dramatic action taken against Blender Underground dot com at the expense of our users. Our web site’s tutorials are accessed by individuals, educational institutions, and government.
I could also understand if a traffic spike or something similar brought the server to its knees, and they needed to temporarily limit traffic or disable access in order to deal with it. However this was not the case. Our traffic was lower in September than in previous months. There were no Blender Nation links in September creating huge spikes, like in previous months. Blender Underground’s traffic was down in September.
This reveals that whatever problem Bluehost was having was not with Blender Underground, it was with Bluehost.
If you’re a regular visitor to the site you may have occasionally noticed a message that said, something to the effect of, “CPU Quota exceeded, please try again shortly.” This is how a host with a shared environment keeps a single site from using too much CPU. Blender Underground semi-regularly exceeds this limit because its WordPress and PHPBB content management systems both use a lot of PHP and MySQL, which can be CPU intensive, and it gets a fair amount of hits.
This is perfectly reasonable and understandable, and puts the burden on the site to make sure it’s as efficient as possible in order to share nicely with other sites on the server. If the site gets too much traffic, placing too much load on the CPU, it is very temporarily cut off, for a minute or so, and then access is restored.
What’s not reasonable nor understandable is that Blender Underground was summarily judged as “resource heavy” and taken off line permanently, and no attempt was made on the Bluehost end to resolve what is most definitely, their problem. I was strong-armed into finding a solution for them — they refused to reactivate the website until did. I opted to password protect the video tutorials directory, effectively breaking all external links to the files.
This was completely unprofessional on the part of Bluehost support, and that unprofessionalism was vicariously foisted on users of this site. Thankfully, I recently received offers to mirror the video tutorials by a couple of dedicated operatives; I can’t thank them enough. I’ll be posting a public thank you message to both of them soon.
In case anyone is interested, here are a few things that Bluehost could have done to leave a better impression with a dramatically inconvenienced customer:
- Advanced warning — if a site is causing some hardware stress for reasons not related to bad configuration, etc., a little advanced warning from Bluehost support of necessary actions would have made all the difference. I may not have been happy about needing to address the issue on my end, but it would have been far better than the apathetic plug-pulling that occurred.
- Empathy – this appeared to be missing from their communication with me. Here’s a hypothetical message that would have been beyond acceptable: “We’re really sorry that we had to take your site down but it was an emergency situation, and it was the only short-term thing that we could do to continue service to the rest of our customers. I’ll escalate this issue to one of our high level support personnel and they can work with you to find a solution.“
- Technology – some scripting on their end could probably have transparently addressed the problem by limiting connected users, just as they limit CPU usage. While hardly ideal, it’s far better than flipping the off switch and passing the problem’s solution onto me.
Any one of these would have made my experience much, much better. While I can empathize with the challenges of shared hosting, and providing support to a million users, it’s difficult to excuse the indifferent, even possibly punitive action taken toward a Bluehost customer by Bluehost support, when I dared to use a fraction of the resources they committed to me.
In practically every other way I’ve had a decent Bluehost experience. However the true quality of service is put on display not on a day-to-day basis, but when an outstanding or unusual issue occurs. In this regard, I was treated poorly, and cannot say that my Bluehost support experience can be rated much higher than disappointing.
I never wanted to write these posts; I’m not much for vendettas. I would have preferred that Bluehost Support dealt with me a little better, more professionally, with a little more empathy (we’re not all kids making pages and forums about our WoW characters). I even emailed Bluehost CEO Matt Heaton directly, hoping to hear from him or get some assistance, asking him to review my ticket. I understand he’s a busy man running a busy company, but I didn’t want it said that I resorted to blogging negatively about my support experience, without first making some effort at a reasonable resolution.
As a side note, my server space was reduced from 50 GB to 15 GB since this incident. I’m not sure if this was punitive or not, but it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t intentional.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 8th, 2008 at 4:02 pm and is filed under Web Site. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.