CI Host, an evil-doer of the hosting world

If you Google “CI Host sucks” you get about 340,000 hits. Even with the quotes (exact string search) you get 70 hits. This post joins that group.

I’ve been a co-location customer with CI Host since January 2002, and used their shared hosting for some time before then. Their shared hosting really sucked… so I’m not sure why I thought their co-lo service would be any better, but to my defense I must note that at the time there were no local co-lo alternatives in the same price-range. Granted, with one’s own, remotely managed server there has been no need to deal with CI Host’s non-existent customer service, at least to the same degree as with shared hosting. But co-locating introduced its own issues, such as periodic loss of A/C while the server power is still available (this has happened three times in last six years) where the server almost cooks before they either got A/C back online, or I found out as my server’s environmental sensors started sending high temp alerts and I was able to turn off the server before hard drives started failing.

Being now aware of all these problems as well as to save money I started recently a project to consolidate servers into a different, much better data center.  I had some credit left on my CI Host account, and it was enough to keep the service up through the 20th of October, this month, or so I thought. In late September I contacted CI Host billing and told them I was planning to cancel the service in early October. “No problem,” they said, “we’ll erase your credit card info to prevent automatic billing on October 8. Just submit your cancellation notice with instructions so that the service won’t be terminated when the billing doesn’t go through.” So I sent in my cancellation on September 23, and faxed in the signature form (mind you, the fax number they provided on the cancellation confirmation email was “no longer in service”, so I had to find their current, functional fax number first).

Today — on October 8 — I received an invoice from their billing department, with the difference between the total amount for the month and the remaining credit due immediately.  Surprised, I called them, and was told that “CI Host does not pro-rate credit for part of a month,” and that “your invoice is due now,” (or we’ll terminate the service and won’t relinguish the server when you come to pick it up) no exceptions.

Arrgh!!  What is this?!  There was also “nobody else to talk to” than “Sheila” with whom I spoke. No supervisor – she was the supervisor. The fact that I’d been a customer for almost seven years, had referred several customers to them (which I now regret), had stated that I don’t need the remainng credit (about $20) refunded after I’ve removed the server, and that I had been told otherwise couple of weeks ago (when I still would’ve had the time to remove the server before the end of September and the beginning of a new billing cycle) made no difference.

I nearly removed the server from the center last Saturday after their network (and cleverly also the customer service phones which probably operate over VoIP) had been down for three hours. I wish I had, because then I could’ve simply refused to pay. Now I had no choice since my server was being held hostage, and I had not demanded it on the paper that the remaining credit would indeed have been good through October 20th without an extra payment.

Now, some $36 I had to pay is not a huge sum of money, but the way they treated a long-term customer was plain wrong. Considering the number of unsatisfied customers and some major gaffes over the last decade or so, it’s miraculous that they’re still in business. My guess (and hope) is that they won’t last much longer, they don’t deserve it. I will never refer another person to them, and am sure to tell the story to as many people as possible. Was it worth the $36 for them?

If you need top-notch co-lo service, look into VIRTBIZ (starting at about $10/mo more than CI Host per month), or Colo4Dallas. Both have excellent level of service. For managed hosting try out Rackspace. Using a sucky hosting company like CI Host is simply not worth the grief!

CI Host: 40°C and Rising

I spent most of today dealing with server emergencies. Last night we had severe thunderstorms pummeling through the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area with high winds, even few tornado alerts. No tornadoes were officially spotted in the city area, but winds and the lightning were strong enough to do some damage to the power grid. Servers were still working normally at night (I was up, watching the weather radar at 4am), but by the morning the dedicated servers I manage were unreachable. A quick call to CI Host’s tech support produced no help: a busy tone. Dialing repeatedly for the next half an hour didn’t make any difference, so there didn’t seem to be support available today. According to the recorded “current network status” at the company’s main phone number there were “no current network outages or other issues”. Yeah, right. Being only 20 minutes or so away from the facility I decided to go to investigate.

At the hosting company’s Bedford facility (“CDC-01”) chaos reigned supreme. All the doors were open, diesel generators were spewing fumes into the air (while being cooled by rigged water-hoses), and a mixture of technicians and concerned looking nerds were running around. Being one of the nerds, I joined in. There was no usual security, I strolled in to the lobby and chatted with one of the CI Host’s admins. Mains power was down as I had gathered from the diesel generators running outside of the building. Since I was there, I decided to take a look at the co-located servers on two different floors. Elevators were not working, of course, so it was up the stairs. Approaching the 2nd floor server room the temperature was increasing on every step — the generators were able to provide electricity for the servers, but not for the A/C!. Inside the room, the thermometer on the wall was displaying 90°F (32°C), but someone who had been there for several hours working on their server swore the thermometer was pegged to not go over the 90°F mark. My server’s internal temperature sensors were indicating 43°C for the case temperature.

After a few moments I decided to shut down the servers to prevent hardware damage.. the CPU temperatures were reasonable but the hard drives were running rather hot — normally the server room is some 30-40 degrees (C) cooler.

After shutting down the servers I was ready to leave, and picked up the phone to have someone to come to let me out. Line busy! Was I trapped in the sauna? No… I forgot there was no security today; all the doors were unlocked. So I decided to pay a visit to the third floor co-lo room where the A/C was supposed to be running and where another of the servers I manage is located. Once I made it there (through a staircase), I found just another hot room full of concerned nerds and their baking computers. I switched off the server there, too, and left.

According to the case temperature sensors the A/C started working again around 10:30 in the evening. I switched the servers back online through remote access.

With the dust settled, I’m starting to look for alternative co-lo facilities. While the power outage was not the fault of CI Host, their level (or lack of) disaster preparedness is disheartening. Firstly, it is very irresponsible to let the clients’ servers run in that kind of “torture test” environment — I think they should not provide electricity for the servers if there is no electricity for the A/C. This exact same thing happened few years back after a major storm, but early summer rather than in the spring, so the temperatures were even higher. Clearly there has been no improvement in the emergency power since that time.

The strongest contender at the moment is Colo4Dallas. I’m going to tour their facility in the next few days, and likely start planning a move there.