GoDaddy’s outage reveals how hosting firms' have responsibility

There will be managers at GoDaddy, the internet hosting company and domain registrar, who will be looking forward to the end of this week. A six hour service outage on Monday affected thousands, if not potentially millions, of customers. Unable to access their websites, many of GoDaddy’s customers will be counting the cost of the downtime and will have much to think about when the time comes to renew their contracts. Whether an accident or a network failure which the company needs to improve, what happened to GoDaddy shows how important it is for web hosting companies to respond quickly to problems but also leaves lessons for users and how they store their data online. For the users affected by the outage it will have begun on Monday morning by wondering if it was just them. Perhaps it will have been a call from a customer, perhaps they were trying to refresh their own website and getting nowhere. Gradually it will have dawned on them their website was down. GoDaddy acted quickly to get news out there to its customers, confirming the outage on their Twitter feed. They kept their followers and customers updated throughout the day letting them know how attempts to fix the problem were progressing. In all, the outage began at 10am and the problem was fixed by 6pm.

The following day GoDaddy CEO Scott Wagner issued a statement. In an email the company apologised profusely.

"We let you down and we know it," the e-mail read. "We take our responsibilities -- and the trust you place in us -- very seriously. I cannot express how sorry I am to those of you who were inconvenienced."

The worries for GoDaddy won’t just be that the outage happened but it will be, as they reflect in their apology, that customers place a lot of trust in them; if that trust is broken then they might be tempted to go elsewhere. For the SMEs, entrepreneurs, bloggers, e-commerce companies who host their websites through GoDaddy they have lost a full day, at a time when many companies can’t afford to.

What is probably most worrying for customers is that, while GoDaddy were vocal in keeping them up to date on progress to get the problem fixed on Monday, they haven’t said as much about what actually caused it. On Tuesday a hacker took to Twitter to say they had caused the outage. That was denied by GoDaddy who said;

“We have determined the service outage was due to a series of internal network events that corrupted router data tables. Once the issues were identified, we took corrective actions to restore services for our customers and GoDaddy.com. We have implemented measures to prevent this from occurring again.”

Scott Wagner was also quick to confirm that customer data was never under threat and their systems weren’t compromised.

This lead some to ask, which is worse; being vulnerable to hackers and showing there are gaps in your security system or to admit it was a system failure and reveal there’s something wrong with your network? The result is the same for customers; downtime and lost revenue coupled with frustration but it also shows the need for transparency.

Data has become a target for hackers, leading some to comment that hosting firms have a bit of a target on their back. Perhaps they do but it makes their responsibility even more important and the need to protect the information and data stored with them as their first port of call.

The lessons to learn, not just for GoDaddy but other hosting firms are clear and reflect how what is really a new kind of business relationship comes with immense responsibility.

First of all the importance of communication. Problems will happen. Hosting companies have a duty to make sure their network is as secure and reliable as humanly possible. When they are asking companies and individuals for money they can’t afford to cut corners or not put as many security protocols or not have the most stable network they can create. The growth of cloud computing and the way it has revolutionised the way businesses work and interact with their customers means the number of hosting companies has exploded in number. Yet not all share the same kind of responsibility in terms of security and a reliable service.

However many protocols and however secure the network there is always a risk of outage. Often these will be problems out of the hosting company’s control. If the worst does happen then keeping customers up to date, letting them know what’s happened quickly, regularly and frankly is imperative. GoDaddy was quick to take to its Twitter feed and to keep customers up to date and let them know when their sites would be back online. Good communication means customers can let their own clients know what’s happening. There’s a knock on effect that the hosting company has to understand.

Back up all your data. It’s a responsibility for both the hosting company and the customer to back up all their information. GoDaddy has been quick to say that at no time was customer data at risk but the outage shows the added responsibility storing data brings. For the customer putting all their eggs in one digital basket could result in them losing important information and exposing themselves to further threats. If websites do go down a backup also means they might not incur the same sort of downtime and loss of revenue.

Be open and be frank. While GoDaddy has been quick to get in touch with customers, also offering them a free month’s service to make up for the outage, they have not been as frank as to exactly what caused the problem. Companies do place a lot of faith in hosting firms and chances are they look to them as a source of technical knowledge. Technology can seem like a black hole to some who just don’t understand it, and are frightened by their lack of knowledge. Not being clear and frank about exactly what causes an outage can create fear and concern that it’s part of something much bigger. Honesty is the best policy to alleviate worry.