Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the tech support hell I ended up in with my internet service provider (ISP), Network Solutions. I also wrote a post explaining the tech-support process and how to navigate some of the obstacles you’ll encounter. I stated at the time that I would look for a new ISP, but NetSol performed well until the renewal of my service contract seven months later, so I opted to go with the devil I knew.
That devil has now failed to get one of my sites up and running for an entire week. During that week I’ve been told the problem was related to a denial-of-service attack, and that it was related to an error in the configuration of my WordPress settings, but neither of those knee-jerk diagnoses were true. When tech support came to the same conclusion — after multiple calls from me — they escalated the issue to engineering. My site is still unavailable after seven days.
I understand that Network Solutions can’t provide free tech support to every site owner who uses WordPress. And I have no doubt that they are constantly badgered by users seeking exactly that: free service for problems those users created. So when the NetSol techs told me there was a configuration problem with my WordPress settings I took ownership of the problem. (They stressed that they weren’t even supposed to do that much, and I’m grateful they tried to help within the confines of their internal directives.) In looking into the issue, however, I realized not only that I didn’t cause that problem, but there was clear evidence to suggest the configuration issue was not the cause of the problem I was having.
What the techs noticed was that the Server Alias assigned to me by NetSol didn’t match the Server Alias I had specified in my wpconfig.php file. And they were right. For both of my sites the config files said my Server Alias was MysqlvXX (where XX is a two digit number), while NetSol said my Server Alias was MysqlvYYY (where YYY is a three digit number). Clearly there was a mismatch.
Having configured both sites myself, however, I knew that the settings in my config files were correct dating from the original launch of each site. Which means that at some point NetSol changed the Server Alias for my hosting package without notifying me. I don’t know why they did that, but in doing so they made it appear that I had improperly configured my site when I hadn’t.
Equally problematic was the fact that one of my sites (Ditchwalk) continued working even with the improperly configured php file. When I updated both php files to match the new Server Alias specified by NetSol, nothing changed: the site that was up stayed up, the site that was down stayed down. Which is why, ultimately, tech support escalated the problem to engineering. Four days later and my site is still down.
Yes, I get it: it’s the holidays, they’re probably running a skeleton crew, blah blah blah. But I’m still out a solid week and counting.
In the greater scheme of things my site is nothing. I’m not bleeding money or customers, or losing rank. But it’s my site. I’m paying for up-time. I can’t make sense of NetSol’s guarantee, but no matter how they calculate performance, I’ve lost a week. And it’s a week I was looking forward to.
If you’ve never checked in on Neil, he’s a fictional reporter with PTSD. I write a blog from his point of view, touching on issues of the day as well as exploring his character. Going into the last week of December I planned to post little or nothing on Ditchwalk, but I had a series of posts I wanted to write as Neil, including posts about the Iowa Caucuses, which end tomorrow. (Neil lives in the fictional town of Summit, Iowa.) I didn’t get to do that, and because of the time-sensitive nature of those posts I won’t get to do that.
To his credit Neil isn’t too upset about the break in service, but for me it’s been maddening. I don’t know what I’m going to do when my contract is up again. I don’t like whining or complaining because I have this old-fashioned idea that people should actually do what they say they’re going to do. If you have a WordPress site with NetSol or anybody else, make sure your Server Alias is configured correctly, if only so tech support won’t dismiss other issues you raise.
It’s not fun, but part of being a self-publishing writer — on the web or anywhere else — is dealing with tech issues. Even when they’re not your fault.
Update: Over the weekend, after multiple goads to action, Network Solution’s tech support team managed to solve the problem and get NeilRorke.com back up. While Neil took the break in service in stride, I’m a little less forgiving.
The problem that was eventually identified and fixed was one I had specifically pointed a previous tech support rep to in an earlier phone conversation. Unfortunately, without checking what I was talking about the rep assured me that everything was configured properly when it clearly wasn’t. And that’s over and above the fact that NetSol introduced the problem to begin with. So not only didn’t I do anything to make my site unavailable, all of my efforts to solve the problem were thwarted by a tech support process that couldn’t get out of its own way. And in the aftermath there has been no explanation, no accountability, no compensation for what I lost. They got paid, and in return I got two weeks of incompetence — provided I was willing to work for it myself.
I understand that the tech behind the web is complicated. I also understand that it’s often very creaky. Patches and fixes and slap-dash solutions are implemented to keep whole services from collapsing under their own weight. At times, implementation of a much needed fix will necessarily break something else. What’s frustrating about NetSol is that they seem institutionally incapable of identifying opportunities for being proactive in their communications with clients. (During the blackout of Neil’s site I tried to use the email for that site but the send function failed. When I reported the error I was notified by tech support that they had been doing maintenance and that I should have received notification in advance. I received no notification.)
I don’t know what I’ll do when my hosting contract is up for renewal again in the summer. If I’m lazy or dubious about anyone else’s ability to perform better I may stay put, almost certainly ensuring another annual bout of this kind of self-inflicted abuse. Hopefully I’ll have the smarts to come back and read this post, and that will give me enough motivation to change.
Later update: Apparently the wheels at Network Solutions do still grind, if slowly. After posting the above update I received an email from the one person I’ve had contact with who seems to have organizational permission to stand back and look at the big picture. I’ll never know to what extent my experience might translate into a better customer service experience for NetSol’s customers, but the opportunity is clearly there.
Policies often evolve in a way that ensures the functionality of the bureaucracy implementing those policies, rather than facilitating ongoing relationship with clients and customers. It’s understandable, but it’s a mistake. As a jaded consumer I remain dubious that any company can self-correct, particularly in difficult economic times, but in this particularly instance I’m satisfied that I was heard.
— Mark Barrett