About 165,000 Web sites knocked offline by NaviSite outage

The Web hosting company blamed a failed data center migration

Approximately 165,000 Web sites have been offline since Saturday, thanks to a failed data center migration involving US-based Web hosting company NaviSite.

The problems started Saturday when NaviSite attempted to migrate and replace hundreds of servers operated by Baltimore-based Alabanza, a Web hosting company acquired by NaviSite in August.

According to NaviSite spokesman Rathin Sinha, NaviSite decided to physically move 200 of the 850 servers operated by Alabanza to NaviSite's data center in Andover and then virtually migrate the data from the rest of the older servers to new boxes, also in Andover.

NaviSite let its customers know that their sites would be down for a while on Saturday, with the migration expected to be finished that day, Sinha said. But when NaviSite attempted to transfer the data from the 650 servers still in Baltimore it ran into a number of synchronization failures that kept multiplying.

As Saturday progressed, NaviSite realized it would probably miss its completion deadline; as a result, company officials decided to physically transfer another 200 servers from Baltimore to Andover to help reduce the scope of the virtual migration and speed up the data transfer.

But then NaviSite ran into more problems. As the hosts came up, their URLs did not, so although customers could access their Web sites from their IP address, they could not do so using their URLs, Sinha said.

"That was unanticipated," he said.

As NaviSite tried to solve that problem, the network became overloaded because of all the customers trying to get online, Sinha said. "What happened was first the URL could not match with the IP address and then IP did not match with the machine, so it took some time, and all this time we have a highly trafficked overloaded network," he said. "If there is one little problem, they multiply because there is a lot of dependencies."

Although Sinha said a "big chunk" of sites are back online, he could not say when everything might be back to normal. He also couldn't say how much this failed migration would cost -- NaviSite is a publicly-traded company.

To put it mildly, one of NaviSite's customers, Cynthia Brumfield, president of Emerging Media Dynamics, an analyst firm in Washington, seems to be furious.

In an interview, Brumfield said she's going into her fourth day without access to her Web sites. And she said she doesn't believe the way NaviSite is spinning the story. While NaviSite said it has brought a large number of Web sites back online, she claims it hasn't.

"According to people who have talked to NaviSite's tech personnel, they were ill equipped for the relocation and ignorant of how to accomplish even basic tasks," she said in a blog post. "At this point, NaviSite's poorly planned data center consolidation has slipped from mere incompetence to outrageous indifference to its customers' needs and should be grounds for legal action, if not government sanctions of some kind."

Brumfield said that, in effect, NaviSite yanked the servers for 200,000 Web sites, put them on trucks and then didn't know what to do once the servers arrived in Andover. "But what's worse, NaviSite had informed its clients of a completely different timetable and process for the server relocation than the one implemented," she said in the blog posting.

In the interview, Brumfield said that because all of her backup files are also stored on Alabanza's servers, she has no choice but to hop on a plane to Boston on Wednesday and drive to Andover to retrieve her data. And she said she's bringing a video camera with her to document NaviSite's response to her request.

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