Network Monitoring in 2020

Please note:
This is an update to an original article written in 2015. Most of the information contained in the original article is still relevent, however to ensure customer reliability, the post has been updated with current information. See the original blog post here.

Here we are again! The age old debate of if you as a website owner, should use a “professional” network monitoring service to verify your uptime is what you are getting. We’ve actually talked about this quite a bit on our website, livestreams, and even directly to customers, and our general opinion hasn’t changed in the last 5 years, but we’ll get to that.

What is Network Monitoring? Plain and simple, this is a way for you to sign up for a service, input your website domain, or server details, and the system will watch your website and notify you of any outages. Sounds great right? We’ll here’s the caveat to it.

Online most monitoring services use whats called the “ping method”. This is where the service sends out 1 packet of data to a server, and waits for a response. If it gets a response it knows the server is online. If it doesn’t, or the packet takes “too long (and each provider decides independently themselves how long is too long)”, then it assumes the server is offline.

The problem is that most providers, Spark Rack included utilize what’s called “connection tracking” or “connection filtering” services. These systems watch incoming traffic to our servers, track how often they request specific information, and if they do it more than others, that IP address gets flagged as possibly doing something it shouldn’t be, and can potentially be blocked by security software. Which will make it appear as if it’s offline, even though the system is functioning normally.

A perfect example of this actually occurred on February 20th, 2020 on one of our servers. Several customers reached out with concerns because the third party monitoring solution they were using, claimed the server was offline and unresponsive, however during that exact time, one of those customers was actively logged into his FTP account on the server, editing and making changes to his website, even though it was supposedly offline. During the supposed “outage” reported by his third party provider, there was no interruption of services on his end, in fact he was able to upload quite consistently during that entire time. The provider said his services were unavailable for approximately 1 hour, which is the exact amount of time our security software blocks a suspicious IP address for.

There is another method, which is becoming increasingly popular among these providers, but also has drawbacks and potential to give incorrect information. This is called the “CURL method”. CURL is a linux software that is incredibly useful for administrators. It uses DNS (Domain Name Services) to traverse the internet and request data, post form data, pretty much do everything you might need to do. However, with CURL, it heavily relies on DNS, which means if your provider has a temporary, or longer DNS outage, this could also give you information that is factually incorrect.

Your next question is most likely going to be, well how do I know if my services are online. We have you covered on that. Our Network Status Center is designed and hosted on an internal server to server network, so it automatically bypasses all of those restrictions that other providers have to try to jump through, making it faster, more reliable and it catches issues faster than other providers, because it monitors the conditions and services in real-time.

Most people will kindly (or not so kindly) state that it’s information we provided, how do you know it’s accurate, or untampered with? To which I personally respond (as the person who actually built and coded the system our monitoring operates on). It is physically impossible for us to “tamper with”, adjust, change or falsify information shown on our status page. This information is directly reported from each server in real-time and displayed to the end user each time the page is loaded or reloaded. The only possible way for us to falsify that information would be to completely take away the status pages, and lie our a**es off… Which is not something we do, clearly as we’re very open and honest with our customers and have been since day one.

Getting back to the original point of this article. Should you use a third party network monitoring system on your Spark Rack services? Our answer is no, and we’ve clearly detailed why on several occasions. But if you absolutely, have to, or feel you need to use something other than our own internal monitoring data, it is wise to not take any stock in the information it provides you. If it says there is an outage, verify that information in our Network Center, because in most cases, our Network Center will have it posted before the third party is even aware there is an issue.

Disclaimer: This post is not directed at, or geared towards any customer, user, service, platform or provider. It is here for your information only, and to update an article we posted over 5 years ago. Any relevancy to a personal interaction or situation you may have had with Spark Rack or it’s staff does not mean this article is about, points to, or implicates you in any way.

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