And it was at that point, from what I can tell, that all hell broke loose. No, it wasn't some cataclysmic, world changing event or anything. But for me, it may as well have been.
You see, not 20 minutes after I had gone to asleep, our production FileMaker server started acting up. From what I was able to determine from the server's event logs later on, the web publishing engine stopped for no apparent reason.
And of course, since I had gone to bed late, the next day, I got up a little later than usual, which only made matters worse. As I do every morning, one of the first things I did was to check my iPhone for messages. I found several emails and voicemails, from our monitoring company and from clients, telling me that the databases were unreachable and the Web sites that those databases are integrated with were down.
"Welcome to 2011," I said to myself sarcastically. Then I rolled up my sleeves, and started trying to bring the server back from the dead.
The Joys of Hosting
Over the years, several clients had asked if I offered hosting services, and it always seemed awkward to say "no" to them. But at some point I decided to take the plunge and offer hosting. And since that time, things have never been the same.
Hosting, or so I thought, just made sense. It seemed easy enough to do. I thought that all I would need to do was to setup a nice server in a professional data center, and start signing up clients. I also thought that providing hosting would be a convenience for my clients, providing them with a single source for consulting, development, and hosting services. And that as long as my hosting revenue exceeded my hosting costs, I'd be in good shape.
"How hard can it be?" I wondered.
Well, it turns out that hosting isn't as easy as I thought.
You see, with hosting comes a lot of responsibility - a new level of responsibility that you don't have to take on if you're just designing and developing solutions. With consulting and development work, there are rarely emergencies that require you to be "on call" all day, every day. Sure, emergencies and "rush" work do come up from time to time. But for the most part, you can sleep at night, and take time off, without having to worry about things coming to a screeching halt.
However, when you offer hosting, that's just not the case. You are "on call" around the clock, and always at the mercy of technology. You can bet - and it has been my experience - that disaster will strike at the most inopportune time, whether it's 20 minutes after you go to bed, when you're in the middle of an important meeting, or a few hours into your vacation.
And any number of seemingly improbable things might happen. FileMaker Server, which has been humming along, doing its thing reliably for months, will suddenly stop in its tracks, for no good reason. The data center that you use will have a momentary, fluke power issue, sending your server into a deadly downward spiral of doom.
Sure, the revenue from hosting can be nice. Who doesn't like steady, relatively passive income? But at what point does hosting make sense for you? Can you put a price tag on being able to get a good night's sleep, or take a few days off, without having to deal with a server emergency, or worry about something happening? And how many clients do you have to sign up before this really makes sense? I realize now that there is no reasonable price that I can charge for hosting that makes it worthwhile.
Hosting, it seems to me, is a very challenging thing to do, and especially so for small and solo FileMaker shops, where hosting isn't their core service. Companies that are good at hosting, and that focus on it, make it look easy. But I can tell you first hand that it isn't easy, and I don't think we can give good, reliable hosting companies enough credit.
One of my goals for 2011 is to get myself out of the hosting business, to find a reliable FileMaker hosting company to work with, and begin transitioning my clients to them.
And hopefully, as a result, 2012 will start off on a better note for me than this year did.