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What happened to the Ask HLM website..?

By Steve Mickley on 9/18/2014

It was mid June, the weather was good and the initial rush of through-hikers on the AT had passed.  It seemed an excellent time to set out for some hiking of our own.  Little did I know that I was also about to embark on a personal reexamination of the important relationship between the cost of something and the value received.

Our website at Hardwood Lumber & More... had been hosted by Power DNN.  The developer who originally put our website together had recommended Power DNN as the host and, having no real knowledge on the subject, I agreed.  It was an excellent relationship; over the years we never experienced any difficulties or anything even approaching downtime.  However, when we closed Hardwood Lumber & More... and changed the name of the website to Ask HLM (askhlm.com) with the intent of continuing it as an informational site only, it seemed logical to look at the cost of hosting since the more critical aspects of e-commerce would no longer be needed.  After all, if I could reduce the annual cost of hosting for the same service, wouldn't that be the logical thing to do?  It was at that point that my logic got a bit fuzzy.  If I was going to receive the same service my decision would have been sound.  But, "if" is a pesky little noun used to describe an assumption or hypothesis that may or may not (and frequently is not) valid.  You would think, having dealt with the question: "If I can get a sheet of maple plywood from Lowe's for half of what you charge, why should I buy yours?", I would have given a bit more thought to my decision.  But, like so many who bought the plywood from Lowe's and later regretted the decision, I tossed caution and reason to the wind and went the "cheaper-is-better" route.

Worse still (no, let me change that to "foolishly") I ignored early signs that my decision was poorly considered.  Migration of the website to the new host, following the instructions I was given, simply did not go well.  When I went online to see how others had migrated websites created using DNN to my chosen new host I read page after page of horror stories and "don't do it" admonitions.  But, I reasoned, look at all the money I am saving.  Besides, I have read a number of posts where people were quite happy with this choice.  After all, they could not have become as popular as they are if they weren’t doing something right; those who are unhappy are probably doing something wrong. 

Let me pause here to say that all of my initial contacts with the new host were with what I will call their first line of support; the folks who answer the phone when you call.  I found them to be courteous and more than adequately knowledgeable to deal with most of the problems I encountered.  False starts and even restarts of the initial setup and migration of the website notwithstanding, we did work through the issues and I learned a great deal in the process.  Where I should have seen the potential for future problems was when a support ticket had to be sent up to the next level.  "Support" at this level was far more cryptic and the actual heavy lifting was left to me.  More often than not I had to call on a local web developer to interpret and help me execute the suggested solution.  By comparison, when Power DNN hosted the website any problems that were encountered were quickly and effectively handled directly by the by the Power DNN support staff.    

With this as background, let's return to June of this year and my relaxing hike.  I got a call on my cell phone from a friend informing me that my websites were down.  I immediately called support to see what the problem was.  No help!  Once again the problem had to be kicked-up to one of the server experts.  I knew from experience that this was not good.  It would be at least a day before I could expect a reply.  When the promised help did come it was in the form of an emailed link to a third-party forum ostensible intended to deal with DNN problems.  No explanation of any kind accompanied the email; just the link.  The particular thread on the forum to which I was directed contained an unresolved question that had been posted over two-years earlier.  Even more alarming, there was only one reply to the question and it was posted four months after the original question had been asked.  Further, the information it contained, if accurate at all, was so cryptic as to be totally useless (the local developer I had relied on in the past took one look at it and said, “I have no idea what this is…it’s useless”). A follow-up question asking for clarification that was posted over a year later to the same thread received no reply.  In other words, the support that I received in response to why my website had mysteriously gone down while I was miles from my computer, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, was a link to a useless two-year-old unanswered question on a little visited forum with no connection to my new host.  Clearly, this expert had no idea what had caused my website to go down.  It seemed apparent that in order to come up with a response to my problem he had simply done a Google search on the key words in the error message generated by their server when my websites went down.  My suspicion is that the thread on this particular forum may well have been the only Google hit returned so it was copied and sent to me.  I would further guess that the forum link was forwarded without even being read by this expert to see if the content was relevant.  Had it been read, and the coherence (if not the validity) of the information contained been scrutinized, it is impossible for me to believe that anyone in a tech support position could possibly have thought it would be useful.  This is especially true given that there was absolutely no accompanying advice, suggestions or recommendations. 

So, at that point, I am left to conclude that my websites had gone down spontaneously and for no reason since: 1) I had no access to a computer when the sites went down so it's difficult to see how I could have been the cause, and 2) my new host apparently could not conceive of anything they could have done to cause the problem (or didn't know what to do to correct the problem if the glitch had occurred at their end).  Clearly, if the websites were to be recovered the task rested squarely with me.  Since I am no more knowledgeable on these matters now than I was years ago I set about to find an expert in the workings of DNN.  I found such an individual and gave him administrative access to my hosting account.  In less than an hour he diagnosed the problem but said he would need a particular type of back-up of my websites that only the website host could provide since he had no access to their servers.  Once he had that he could make the necessary corrections and the site would be restored.  After several more days of back-and-forth with the new host it was clear that the requested back-up would not be provided.  I was told that for a fee they could probably restore the websites from a "disaster recovery backup".  Really..!?  Where was that offer back in mid June?  It's now early September, my websites have been down for nearly three-months and I am just now learning that my new host "probably" had it within their power to have restored my websites all along!  As an aside, what happens if "probably" turns out to be an empty claim?  Do I get the recovery fee back or am I simply buying another sheet of import core plywood to replace the defective sheet that I can't return..?    

I'm a bit slow at times; but, it suddenly dawned on me that the money I had "saved" for what I had foolishly assumed to be the "same service" had long since been eaten up in website down-time, consulting fees and frustration.  Then, it hit me.  If my new host has some sort of "disaster back-up" I wonder if Power DNN still has the ability to restore the original Hardwood Lumber & More... website.  If they do, I reasoned, it will be far easier for me to remove the stuff from the old website that is no longer appropriate than it will be to go all the way back to the beginning and start over again.  I called Power DNN (now Managed.com) about a week ago and learned that they could indeed roll back the clock, so to speak, and get Ask HLM back online by restoring the old Hardwood Lumber & More... website to the new askhlm.com site.  I will lose some of the more recently added content but since most of it was created outside of the website and copied in, it should be relatively easy to reenter.  No problem (just time) and I would have to do that even if the new host could recover the websites from an earlier date.  If only correcting problems caused by building with inferior import core plywood were as simple. 

To quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek, Make it so..!  Will my annual hosting bill be higher?  Yes.  But, like domestic poplar core hardwood plywood, there are no voids beneath the veneer, the product is far more stable and what I make from it will be more dependable, predictable and easier to maintain.  Whether we are talking about hardwood plywood or website hosting, we really do get what we pay for...

My sincere apologies for the down time and for my poor stewardship of this website.  I hope many of you have found (and will find) our efforts useful.  I will also remain open to your comments, questions and suggestions.  Most of the articles from the old Hardwood Lumber & More... website have been recovered though some still need editing and reformatting since font, text color and size did not copy properly.  I will get my mess cleaned up in the coming weeks and hope to reintroduce the forum page soon…

Ask HLM restored

5 comment(s) so far...

Good show Steve. You have a lot of people on your side. Fred Dobson aka Boatworx.

Steve - Glad you are back up. As a former HLM employee I was sad to hear of the store closing, but I am so happy to see the Ask HLM site. Wishing you the best from northern Illinois!

I was certainly missing the site while it was down, glad to see the basics back up. Hoping after everything is squared away I can log in.


Steve, How do I register to ask a question on finishing? regards, Jill

Jill; In the text on the home page as well an in my introduction to the articles I have included a link to my email address. Simply click on either of those links and email your question to me. If your question is related to information in one of the articles you can ask a question by posting a comment at the bottom of the article.

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