Inert Detritus The Internet's dust bunnies

2 September 2006 @ 8pm

Business Basics

My email provider, Fast­mail, had a cat­a­stroph­ic serv­er fail­ure on Thurs­day morn­ing (Wednes­day night?) The hard dri­ves on server3 became cor­rupt­ed as a result of a filesys­tem bug. They were able to quick­ly remount most par­ti­tions, but the largest (2 Ter­abytes) took much longer to check. It is cur­rent­ly still being verified.

Many users, includ­ing myself, have ques­tions.

  1. Why isn’t there a back­up serv­er to host us on until this comes live?
  2. Why are incom­ing emails to our account being bounced, instead of being queued for delivery?
  3. Why are updates infre­quent, vague, and not reassuring?

Users of any online ser­vice are fick­le. When things break, the com­pa­ny is required to do a few sim­ple things to save face and keep customers:

  1. Update sta­tus fre­quent­ly. We like to know what’s hap­pen­ing in as much detail as we can. Infor­ma­tion, good or bad, is mag­ni­tudes bet­ter than spec­u­la­tion and uncertainty.
  2. Tell us, as con­fi­dent as you can be, of whose fault it is. If the data cen­ter made it, then we want to hear that you’ll be mov­ing us or tak­ing steps to guard against it hap­pen­ing again. And if you screwed up, own up to it will­ing­ly and with­out redi­rect­ing blame. Admit to it, and tell us how you’re going to win back our con­fi­dence and make sure it does­n’t hap­pen again.
  3. Have a Plan B. If a serv­er goes down for emails, let us access new email in the inter­im. If a web­serv­er dies, be ready to shift users to a new one and restore from back­ups (you were keep­ing back­ups, right?)

Fast­mail has done none of these things. And so, it is with lit­tle reluc­tance that I am going to host my own email from this domain. I can find/buy/own my own mail serv­er, and retain con­trol over the domain (and mail exchange (MX) records, as a side bonus.)

Com­put­ing com­pa­nies must be run as busi­ness­es. Cus­tomers want trans­paren­cy and hon­esty, and if you refuse to give them that, basic uncer­tain­ty will quick­ly send them elsewhere.