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Status sites

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Sunday March 16, 2008 )

If you’re running a web services business; a status site can save your clients (and you) a ton of stress and frustration.

I think we’ve all been there – our hosting service appears to be down; there’s problems with our email or net connectivity, or an online app crucial to the running of our business doesn’t load. So what do we do? Shoot off a message to support – along with hundreds, perhaps thousands of others. The stress and frustration increases waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, the support team are bogged down with these requests when they could be doing other things to help assist with the restoration of services.

It can become a really ugly mess – and I’ve had first hand experience of this at the service provider’s end.

An excellent solution is a network status site. It can be something as simple as a blog hosted outside your own network where you can post status reports on various services. While your users are of course very keen to just see services restored, the next best thing is to be able to tell them that you’re onto it and if possible some sort of time frame on when service will be restored, and then to provide regular updates.

Once you have established your service status site; don’t expect your customers to be aware of its existence through osmosis. You need to tell them, then tell them again .. and again .. and again. A dedicated mailout is a good idea, then regular mentions in your newsletter and also in support team sig lines. After that point, when you experience an outage and folks start calling and submitting tickets, just briefly acknowledge the situation and point them to the status site.

The next challenge is keeping the darned thing updated. When poo is hitting the fan, it can be easy to forget to post an item to your status site and to then post follow ups. Fred thinks that John is doing it, John thinks that Joe is looking after it. Sometimes it’s a case of what you think will be a brief outage not requiring a post turning into an extended one. It’s really important that there’s an established procedure in place for keeping the site updated, otherwise your users will lose faith in the site and start hammering your support system again.

Give it a whirl – don’t expect instant relief in your support system after implementation, but over a few months you will notice that when you experience an outage, the flow of related tickets will be very much reduced.


2 comments for Status sites
  1. Status updating can be done easily and WITHOUT your members needing to know or remember any special Web address, if you use URL-pointing to your main site to begin with.

    Here’s what I mean:

    1. I purchase my domain name from any service that provides URL-pointing (most do), such as

    2. I LEAVE my domain name there (I do not transfer it to my web hosting provider).

    3. I set up my web hosting account in the normal way, obtaining a dedicated IP address (this is usually offered, and is either free or the charge is very negligible).

    4. Once the web site is ready to “go live”, I go back to my domain name provider and point the URL to the dedicated IP address. Now, visitors to the URL will actually go to the dedicated IP address and will never see the redirection, and it is instantaneous (in my experience).

    5. On a different hosting service, purchase the tiniest possible website with dedicated IP address. Might cost you $4 or 5 per month. Here is where you host your “status report” (you could be more ambitious and set up a mirror site, but that’s a different matter).

    6. Now, if your main site becomes inaccessible, you can INSTANTLY redirect customers to your status site by merely changing the IP address for redirection at your domain hosting site. THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO PROPAGATE THROUGH THE DNS SYSTEM AGAIN (remember when you first set up a website, it took a day, two or three for your URL to be registered with DNS servers). Your permanent URL (on your domain provider site, not your website) is permanent. The redirection happens at your domain provider, and is simply an entry in their database, which is “live” in their system immediately (or almost so), and which is what you change when your main site goes down.

    1. Use URL-pointing from your domain name provider even to your main site. Always get a dedicated IP address – it’s cheap and very useful.

    2. Set up your website and do NOT transfer your domain name to their name servers.

    3. When the website is ready, point your URL at the domain name provider to the dedicated IP address of your website.

    4. Set up a microsite with dedicated IP address on a totally different hosting service. This is your status site.

    5. Now, if the main web host goes down or experiences problems, just change the redirection IP address at your domain name provider to the IP address of your status site.

    I use (and am in NO WAY commercially affiliated with) to register my domain names. The redirection feature is free, and I have had to switch IP addresses to my status site only three times, but each time it provided seamless, uninterrupted service to customers who never knew or were in any way inconvenienced by the fact that they were going to a different site (there are ways to mask the IP address, beyond this comment).

    Comment by Brian — March 21, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  2. Brian, thanks for the very detailed solution! Using that method, I’d definitely opt for the mirror site option that you touched on – mainly due to search engine considerations (preserving rankings).

    Comment by Michael Bloch — March 23, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

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