Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There is no such thing as 100% uptime

Over the years we have had customers reporting an outage on their websites. Most clients would never even notice this as they occur usually in the middle of the night. However, lots of IT departments use 'pinging' software to continually monitor their sites and take great pleasure in reporting an outage to anyone who cares. (Usually the MD or or the Marketing Department/Director).

So the question of uptime is one we get a lot. And the notion is that if we work hard enough, test out the hosting companies enough, talk to enough people, and generally get smarter, we can find and recommend the right hosting partner who will deliver 100% uptime.

This is not true. And it has nothing to do with our effort, time, research, or overall intelligence.

It’s related to the nature of the internet. And no one can promise you 100% uptime (for a price you’re willing to pay). Want to test what I’m talking about?

The test for what I’m saying is simple:

Here are the steps you can take.
  1. Look up any hosting provider you like (or want to use)
  2. See if they have a 100% uptime guarantee.
  3. Then see if they have any statements after the 100% uptime guarantee.
If they do, they don’t really guarantee 100% uptime. Right? Because why would you need to say more after the 100% uptime guarantee.

If I tell you that I won’t stab you, there are no further statements, right? Not like, “If I do stab you, I will be sure to put a bandaid on the wound,” or “If I end up stabbing you for a reason that isn’t your fault, I promise to drive you to the hospital.” Nope. If the guarantee is 100%, there are no “if” statements afterwards. An uptime guarantee is – no matter which host you look at – simply a promise of what refund the host offers customers if there’s a network outage. The reality is that many companies simply won’t offer you a 100% uptime guarantee. But if they do, they’ll likely articulate exceptions.
  • Failure of systems, internet, infrastructure, network, power, facilities or connections delivered by third parties
  • Applications, software, or operating system failures because of denial of service attacks, hacker activity, or other malicious events
  • Acts of God (weather, etc)
Oh, and maintenance is also an exception. So trust me when I tell you that the tests are clear – you won’t get 100% anywhere.

You could get 100% uptime…but it will cost you
Let’s talk, for just a second, about how you might go about getting 100% uptime, if you really wanted it. To do that, we need to understand what’s happening behind the simple things we do with a browser and the web. When we make a request for a website, imagine that you’re actually asking someone to send you a book, in chapters, via snail mail. (I know, who would do that??)

So let’s say I ask for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Stone". Here’s what happens in a normal network.
  • I send you a note asking you for the book.
  • You collect all the chapters (117 of them).
  • You send me each chapter in a separate manilla envelope addressed to me.
  • You take them all to the mailbox and drop them off.
  • The postman sends them through the system and they arrive at my post office.
  • My mailman delivers them to me.
  • Only, I don’t get chapters 10, 43, 86, and 92.
  • I send you a note asking for those again.
  • You grab copies of those and you resend them to me.
  • The same thing happens, but I still am missing 92.
  • I ask again and this time your delivery reaches me.
  • Then I open all the envelopes and arrange them in order and I start reading.
This is what happens every time we ask for a web page. And all those chapters are data packets. And those post offices (and mailmen) are like routers. And that chatter back and forth about getting all of what I want / need – that’s the internet protocols that send communication back and forth between my browser and your server.

It’s kind of crazy!

Where it gets even more complicated is when you imagine that those packages aren’t getting delivered using the same route. Ever order 10 things from Amazon and get them in different shipments? If you track them via UPS or Fedex, they don’t necessarily go through the same locations or hubs across the country.

That’s the same thing with routers and packet traffic.

Now why is this all important?  Because in a high availability setup, you have to mitigate issues on several fronts. This isn’t just a “use Cloudflare and everything will be ok.” That’s just not true.
One way to mitigate this is to use a different kind of protocol – anycast instead of unicast. This means that instead of me asking you for the book, I can make a request for the book and you and all your friends, spread out everywhere, could react to me individually – based on who is closer.

This translates, technically, to the notion that confuses people because we told everyone that every domain has a unique IP address (like the address of your house). And the reality of using DNS on an Anycast network, is that the IP can be registered on several servers in several locations. Crazy, I know.

That would help with the speed and performance of requests (like the need for some chapters sent again) because they could go to many different locations. Since I’m in Derby, I could hit a server in London. If you’re in New Jersey, you might make a request to a server in New York.

But that’s not the only place where you need redundancy.
You would also need to mitigate issues with the servers themselves. That means that the place that stores books (a bookstore, if you will) needs its own support if something happens there.
So you’re going to need more than DNS redundancy, you’ll need server clusters. And while you might want to pay for the cheap cold or warm failover, true high availability (100% uptime) will likely require hot failover with a heartbeat monitor.

Think of that heartbeat monitor as one of  those young interns at the bookstore that has to keep running to the back to see if a book is there. Only this time they need to run all over town because your cluster might not be located all in the same spot.

And the moment he comes back to tell you that in warehouse A the book isn’t there, you need to update your infrastructure to route all requests away from that warehouse and to another that has it. But you also need him to go run an order to get that book back in stock.

Are you starting to see why this is expensive and likely more than you want to pay?

You can’t get this for £10-100/month

I love that all sorts of hosting companies offer tremendous deals. Many are doing great things.
But none of them will reserve for you twice the servers you need, located in different places, with a heartbeat monitor, and synchronization, along with anycast DNS services all for £10 a month.
Some hosts will help you with this, but you won’t be paying a few bucks.
But there is good news.
If you really want this, or need this, you can create it yourself on Amazon Web Services. They have everything you would need, assuming you want to get into that configuration game.

In this way, all hosts are equal

What I’m telling you is this. The reality of storms, earthquakes, flooding, DDOS attacks, hackers, and more – they don’t distinguish between hosts. They don’t care about you and your specific site.
In the end, these things happen.
And unlike SimCity (the original), there is no setting to turn on that protects you from it all. And just like when you’re in the slow lane on the motorway, changing will likely just mean you’re about to get into the slowest lane now. It’s just the rule.

Swapping won’t change much, if your host is good to begin with.

So today, you either pay a lot of money for high availability systems, or you recognize that there’s no such thing as 100% uptime...

(With thanks to Chris Lima for most of this information)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Keep Calm and Clear your Cache - when web designers are trying to be helpful!

"Clear your browser cache" (CYBC) is the first response that tech people (I include ourselves in that description, even though we are primarily designers) will give when you encounter a web page problem. We'll look at why that is and how to clear the browser cache.

The browser cache appears in more answers than questions, but it often causes even more questions. Even when following instructions to empty the cache, many people aren’t clear on what this piece of magic really is, or why clearing the cache does anything at all.

Let’s review the browser cache, what it is and why it exists. Along the way, we’ll review the steps to clear it in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome and try to dream up some reasons why that sometimes helps.

The browser cache

The cache exists because of a basic assumption made by browser designers: the internet is slow. More accurately, your internet connection is slower than your computer.

What that means is that it’s faster to get something from your hard disk than it is to get it from the internet. Even with today’s faster internet speeds, that still holds very true.

Browser designers noticed that most web sites had many of the same elements on multiple pages. For example, if you look at most pages, you’ll see a logo at the top. So the thinking was, why download the same logo for every page? Why not just download it once and then keep it so we can use it again?

That’s what the browser cache is for. The cache is nothing more than a place on your hard disk where the browser keeps things that it downloaded once in case they’re needed again.

When you first visit a page on a site, the browser downloads the logo into the cache, and then displays it on the page you’re viewing. For each additional page you visit, the logo doesn’t need to be downloaded again; as long as the same logo is displayed, it’s already on your hard disk.

The cache has a size limit, which you can usually configure. When the cache gets full, the items in it that haven’t been used in a while are discarded to make more space.

Naturally, there’s a little more to it than that. For example, there are ways to update the logo on a site and have that override whatever is in your cache, so what you see is always up-to-date. But by and large, that’s all it is: a place to keep things locally so you don’t have to download the same things over and over again.

And it’s all transparent to you. Until something breaks, or more usually if you are having a site built and developed, when you are continually reviewing the pages. This is when CYBC becomes imperative, otherwise you'll never see what is really 'live' on the site until you do so.

Clearing the cache
Clearing the cache just means emptying it, so that the next time you display a web page everything must be downloaded anew.

For reasons I simply can’t explain – other than by saying “stuff happens” – the cache sometimes get confused. This seems to happen to most all browsers and at random times. What you’ll see are partially loaded or badly formatted web pages, incomplete pictures, or, in some cases, the wrong picture in the wrong place.

It’s not always a caching problem, but because it happens often enough, “clear your browser cache” is often one of the first diagnostic steps you’ll hear from people like us.

Here’s how

Simply visit by clicking here and select your browser type.

I kid you not, you will get fed up to the back teeth of hearing us ask you to CYBC, especially if your site is being updated or renewed by us, however it really is the only way for you to see what are actually the live pages.

Some questions often asked:

If I have to clear my cache,  then won't my customers also have to do the same?
Most likely no. You are constantly vieiwing your demo site while the site build is in process. Your customer most likely visits your site periodically. When they visit your new site they will have never seen it before and as such ALL the pages they view will be new and will be 'forced' by their browser to download.

Does emptying my cache cause any problems?
No, it simply 'forces' your browser to reload all pages (even bookmarked ones) to reload from scratch.

Will I lose my data stored in my browser?
The only data that disappears is cookies and page data. If you are responsible then you should never really store private data in your browser cache, (I'm talking bank/SM passwords etc) what happens if your tablet or laptop gets stolen? In any case, you can choose to empty your cache and retain this data if you wish, just use the preferences when clearing the cache.

Isn't refreshing my page page clearing my cache?
No. If you click on the refresh/reload button  on your web browser, this will trigger a “soft refresh” on the web browser where it will check against the web server to see if the files are modified. If modified, the web browser will pull the latest version of the file and if not modified, the web browser will continue to use the cache version. In many cases the file name is the same so the cached file will be the one you see, and not the modified updated one with the same name.

In Conclusion

I hope that you find this information useful and trust that it helps to demystify some of the issues and questions you may have. If you'd like a more detailed discussion then please feel free to call us on 01332 291141 and we'll be happy to help and advise.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Annual Report Proves Results are Good

The latest Eckoh annual report has recently been published. This 80 page report offers investors and shareholders an insight into Eckoh's past success and vision for the future.

An annual report is just one way to help your business communicate a valuable message  - there are many others...

If your business would benefit from a prestigious publication such as this why not give us a call on 01332 291141 and we'd be happy to discuss how we can help.

How well does your site score?

The new RSM website scores 84% for desktop and 94% for mobile on Google's dedicated site scoring engine.

Why not do the test yourown site on Google's test engine. Click here to see how well your site scores.

If you get a 'poor' rating then we can help you to achieve a better result. None of our own new sites reach less than 90% which has to be good for marketers all over the place...

Obviously sites built on third party platforms such as Wordpress, Square One, Concrete etc are not so easy to optimise. But sites built using our own EditThis CMS can achieve almost unheard of results, which has to be good for your SEO.

Why not give us a call to see how we can help on 01332 291141

Golfing Blast From The Past

Way back in the day...(or in fact back in the 1990s) We did a lot of creative for Ron Harris the CEO of Baron Systems. Some of you may recall Golf Agent and the Baron suite of booking systems.

Last month I was in Leeds for a meeting and purely on the off-chance I texted Ron to see if he fancied a game of golf. After some funny stealth text messages I was lucky enough to get to play a round with him and his wife Rita at Headingley Golf Club.

We had a great game and it was really fun to catch up with them both. Brought back fond memories of the many WITs golf days and the MK Cup.

Thanks to Ron and Rita for the game I look forward to reciprocating soon...

If you are an old colleague or just fancy a game of golf then please contact us on 01332 291141 and we can arrange a game.

When Work Experience Pays Off

The studio team were pleased to have second year graphics student Becky Leam in to help out over the last few weeks.

Becky has been working on some of our projects and has (hopefully) gained some good studio experience too during her time spent here.

She says "I have really enjoyed my time at PE Creative. It has been great to see how a real studio works and was surprised at how busy yet relaxed the studio is and just how quickly the work is completed"

Jonny says "It has been a pleasure to have Becky helping out, we have enjoyed her company and wish her all the best with the rest of her course".

As a bonus 'thank you' Becky gave us some really nice biccies and Lindt balls...yummy and thanks!

We wish her all the best with the rest of her course and future career. It is to be hoped that we have given her some insight into the creative sector...