Self Hosting Sucks

Jeff Atwood and the guys at Stack Overflow posted about their dilemma as they try to scale: to host their own servers or pay a management company to do it for them. Tough decision? Yeah right.

I like to tinker with my computer. Since I was a wee teenager I played with Linux. At 15 I was given access to a Linux shell and charged with maintaining multiple Quake 2 servers running on a sweet sweet OC12 at Qwest and serving hundreds of players daily. During these years I thought it must have been the coolest job to get paid to tinker with servers all day. Since I have become enlightened in a number of ways…

For those that don’t personally know me, a few friends and I have started our own software project. We are several months into development and have setup and been working on our own development server. We are in a lucky position to have the hardware and internet connection supplied by our University. We are running Window Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Visual SVN Server, CruiseControl.NET, IIS and probably more things I cant remember. Everything finally works after countless hours but it is was a nightmare. There are countless little issues or seeming trivial configuration options that take forever to solve.

Last month a Windows Update took down the server and it didn’t come back up. I wasn’t able to physically go to where it was hosted to revive it for several days. Our Vmware host has also crapped out before requiring some intervention. Well, the same thing happened again this month as I forgot to change the Windows Update settings. No idea what is going on as the server is unreachable as is the Vmware host. I have no idea what is up with Vmware and I don’t have time to play with it. We are already behind schedule running into other unexpected problems like a bug in the .NET compiler which caused us 2 weeks of lost time. The thing that scares me though is that we haven’t even run into any of the expected outages like hardware failure thankfully. Self hosting requires performing your own backups and upgrading/repairing your own hardware.

Without describing the plethora of other issues we have experienced I can simply say that a much larger portion of my time is devoted to maintenance than I had hoped. This isn’t even including things like hardware upgrades or setting up or maintaining infrastructure. The only benefit I can see from self hosting is some extra control over your system that you may not get at some hosts. SO WHAT! We live with a firewall we have no control over but find ways to make it work. You will to if you have no choice.

So if you are ever in a position to make a choice to self host or not, ask yourself do you want to pay a hosting company to do it who specialize in this sort of thing or do you want to take on the role of jack of all trades and do it all yourself? I don’t want the kind of pressure on my back if a configuration issue causes an outage for who knows how many people.

Update: it turns out that the network subnet we were running on was reallocated because it was believed no one was using it or they just forgot. So hopefully we get allocated an ip for our server soon or hardly any work will be done over the break. Ugh.

  • Well we have learned how to use/configure a lot of cool tools through this experience. The downtime has never been overly painful as we all planned to be able to development locally in some capacity. Luckily the last outage was during exam studying season so its not hurting us too much. Lets hope its back up before IT leaves from xmas break.

  • Cloud Computing FTW! Give GoGrid a try, you won’t regret it. My blog and the Xberry Live service run there.

  • @Juan Larrea
    Very interesting. Thanks for the link. We will look into this.

  • Ben

    This is why you should use Linux for self-hosting. First it is free and more reliable. While yes there is more work in self-hosting you have to ability to pull the plug when things go wrong.
    Finally you can control the status of the server at all times instead of getting someone else to manage it.