Month: April 2010

In my last post, I shared about my experience with a webhost suspending a hosting account which not only suspended the website but it also took out DNS resolution for the domain. Due to a lack of proper DNS resolution, systems that relied on DNS resolution failed miserably. Many things failed, however there was one warning that I never redceived: a “Website Down!” alert.

I should have received a “Website Down!” alert within minutes of the account being suspended. Why didn’t that happen? I thought about it for roughly 2 seconds before I figured it out (that was 1.5 seconds too long… but it was early in the morning so that might explain it). My website monitor is Site 24×7 from Zoho Corp. It is set to ping my server and report on latency as well as “uptime”. That uptime is based on ping response. However, ICMP is much lower in the stack than the website itself.

Before I go any further, I’d like to say that I’ve known and completely understood the importance of checking your assumptions, and specifically your assumptions about what a ping response is really telling you. However, sometimes in spite of your body of knowledge an assumption is still allowed through.

When my DNS records were suspended as part of the account suspension, the DNS resolution for my site changed to resolve to a different IP address. I’m not sure why, but I believe that it is a default action of my webhost’s DNS system to cause resolution to point to one of their general purpose servers in the event of an account suspension. As such, my ping test resolved properly and I never got a “Website Down!” alert.

Furthermore, merely checking for HTTP responses wouldn’t have likely helped since Apache would have been running normally. I specifically needed to check for the availability of a unique web page on my site, and not index.htm (I’m sure you can see why that wouldn’t be quite so helpful).

All this to say: When setting up monitoring and alerting, make sure you question what your monitors are actually monitoring and what your alerts are actually saying. Do you have any similar stories about poor assumptions? Any alerting system failures you’d like to share? Don’t be shy… we all make mistakes. =)

In true Nubby Admin form, I just learn the hard way why separating systems from unnecessary dependencies on eachother is a Good Thing. Specifically, separating your DNS providor from your web host. I knew it theoretically, but had not yet lerned it experientially. Think about this for a moment: If two things are conjoined in some way, the likelihood that the failure of one will affect the other is high.

At one of the places I do work for, the webhost not only handles their website, but also the entire domain’s DNS records. MX Records, SRV record for Outlook Anywhere, the Phone System’s record, everything. The other morning, I logged into Outlook only to receive a strange certificate error:

There is a problem with the proxy server's security certificate. The name on the security certificate is invalid or does not match the name of the target site [my domain]. Outlook is unable to connect to the proxy server. (Error Code 10)

Pinging remote.[mydomain].com came back with a different IP address than it should have. My pulse quickened, expecting the worst. Did someone get into our web hosts’s control panel? Have they hijacked our site? Is it redirecting to some V!@gra campaign? Can I at least get a cheap R0l3x watch out of the deal?

I logged into our Plesk control panel… only to be told our account was suspended. I figured that our hosting company had objected to our hacked website erupting spam all over the intertubes. I called the webhost’s support number and was greeted by a staffer that embodied all of the enthusiasm of a three-toed sloth attempting to fight his way out of a medically induced coma.

After some discussion, and him apparently IM’ing an admin, it turns out we were over our limit for storage on the server. Sweet. Due to that, our entire hosting account was disabled. Including DNS. Double-sweet.

After getting our account reactivated long enough to jettison some files, all was well. However, I learned a valuable lesson and methinks I’ll be switching DNS authority over to our registrar, Network Solutions to separate an unnecessary dependency. Yes, we used Network Solutions as a registrar but that was before I was involved with this organization so there is no blood on my hands.

Have you ever had a system fail and bring down another system that you weren’t anticipating? How did you dig out of that hole and what did you do to break that dependency?

It’s been a while since I continued this topic. The proverbial 100 hour workweek has taken its toll. Picking up where I left off, I have 5 more points to go through in the www.Business.gov article “10 Steps to Starting a Business”.

Government - If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions.

Step 6: Register a Business Name (“Doing Business As”)

By default, your business name is the same as your full personal name. If you want to use something other than that, you must file for what is variably known as a “Fictitious Name”, “Assumed Name”, “Trade Name” or DBA (“Doing Business As”, not the DBA that we IT pros think of).

The ways you go about registering your fictitious name vary depending on the state or even the county in which you live as well as what type of business you’re setting up. LLCs and Corporations have different methods for filing business names. For me, as a sole proprietor, things are relatively simple.

As for my state and county’s regulations, Step 6’s page has a complete listing of all 50 states, their filing requirements and links to the appropriate sites. No guarantee on how up to date those links are kept though.

Interestingly, my state (Arizona) does not require a formal registration of a business name, however it is “an accepted business practice” and is necessary to avoid someone else using your business name in the future. I have to file with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

And now comes a somewhat amusing part of the story. About two or three years ago while living in Ohio I had picked out an informal business name that I never registered. At the time, I merely searched for registered domain names to see if anyone else was using the name. I found that someone else had registered that name as a .com but not as a .net or .org.

I didn’t think much of it, realizing that two businesses can have the same name if they’re in different states. I registered the .net and continued to informally use it when registering for webinars or filling out questionnaires. I never actually made any money or hired myself out under that name, however.

Now, after moving to Arizona and attempting to develop a business name in earnest, I looked closer at that web site / individual that had been using the same business name that I wanted..

It turns out that the person using that business name has a fairly successful website for consumer electronics and not only lives in Arizona, but in Phoenix at an address just a few miles from where I now live! Furthermore, his profession is in the IT industry and his job title is “IT Systems Engineer”.

No. Way. Ever.

Technically, the business name that he uses for his website is not registered in the state of Arizona, however I wasn’t down with using the name that he has been using for years… especially not with him living in the same town and working in the same profession and having the same first name. That just wouldn’t be nice of me.

Back to the drawing board for business names. Fortunately, the state of Arizona has a nice search feature to help when looking for already registered business names. That tool helped me realize that it’s very, very hard to be original these days. Well… “sdgkj2$G4h” is original, so let me qualify that a bit better. It’s hard to be original and good these days.

It’s also worth noting that the rules surrounding accepted characters, abbreviations, offensive words and even World Wide Web based prefixes and suffixes (such as .com) within a business name can be rather complex. Make sure you read up on your state’s trade name standards. As an example, this is Arizona’s standards document.

After some pondering, I came up with what I believe is a decent business name, somewhat similar to the old one, certainly not original (a few dozen other companies in the Phoenix area have the same basic name, but none of them are in the IT field) but certainly not bad. Crisis averted.

Step 7: Get a Tax Identification Number

Two things being certain in this world, death and taxes (although I’m certain taxes are even more unavoidable), you knew something like this was coming.

There is an EIN, which is your federal tax ID (also known as an Employer Tax ID and a Form SS-4), is used to identify a business in the eyes of the IRS. Almost every business entity needs one, with one notable exception. If you can answer “No” to all six of these questions, you don’t need an EIN.

As my understanding goes, as a sole proprietor with no employees who does not file any excise of pension tax returns, I do not need an EIN. Instead, my social security number will suffice. However! Some will recommend getting an EIN even as an independent contractor because 1)It keeps your social security number off of more paperwork than it needs to be on, 2)It’s easier to open bank account in the name of your business and 3)It makes it so that the IRS can’t classify you as an employee (reference).

Fortunately, the IRS makes it oh-so-easy to get an EIN number. You can apply online!

Step 8: Register for State and Local Taxes

The Federal government isn’t the only ones who require a few ounces of flesh from you. Each state has its own tax structure, so check out Business.gov’s list of all 50 states and links to their specific business tax information pages.

Unfortunately, two of the four referenced links for my state, Arizona, were broken. However, I was able to find a lot if good information at www.AZTaxes.gov (gotta love that domain name).

Part of the state tax process in Arizona and I’m assuming other states is to get a business license. However, not all business require a business license and other need multiple license. Further complicating things, there are three types of business licenses that you may or may not need a combination of.

I’ll leave you to figure out the specifics of your state and personal situation, however you may want to take the advice of my state’s tax website and “Consult your attorney”.

Step 9: Obtain Business Licenses and Permits

This is in many ways a repeat of the previous point. Getting a business license and permit seems to be part and parcel of getting a tax license. Stepping through the mire that is part 8 will get you to many of the same places that you will end up in part 9.

Step 10: Employer Responsibilities

If you decide to become an employer and you further decide to hire people on an employee basis rather than a contractor basis, weep in agony, poor soul.

It is an expensive and complicated thing to have an employee. Forms such as W-2s, W-4s, Copy A’s, I-9s, New Hire Reports, Forms 941 or 944 and who knows how many state level documents have to be filled out. Furthermore, you start paying things like Unemployment Insurance taxes, Workers Compensation Insurance and possibly Disability Insurance. Did I mention Form 940 and FUTA?

Oh yes, you open up a whole can of worm and the government opens up a different kind of can on you, especially if you get something wrong. For me, I’m not planning on employing anyone soon – especially considering the flaming hoops and minefields you have to be careful of. I’ll stick with hiring contractors if I need some extra work done, thankyouverymuch.

So that’s it! Simple, no? No.

Annoyingly, I haven’t even made it past step 6. Furthermore, I’ve decided to pursue a different business structure! If you followed my previous post that chronicled the first 5 points of the Business.gov 10-step program, you know that I had originally decided on a Sole Proprietorship.

I started to consider what that meant. I’d really like to branch out past this initial contract that a friend offered me. I’m even considering becoming a MSP and/or hosted services provider. If I do something daft at a customer site like knock an email server over or mash up a CRM database, I will be personally liable for all damages. That means all personal goods can go up on the auction block to pay damages. House, car, clothes, heirlooms, pets, you name it.

However, if I become an LLC that scenario no longer exists. All business assets can be auctioned, but nothing personal. I previously thought I could simply convert to an LLC from a sole proprietorship when the time came. Then a thought came to me: “Why wait?”

My previous hesitation at becoming an LLC was due to the additional paperwork required, but seeing the imminent deforestation that will be required for steps 8, 9 and 10 (should I ever do 10) pretty much makes it improbable that a few extra slices of paper will make the load much more unbearable.

With that determination in mind, I set off on a slightly different course: Becoming an LLC! Any insights are greatly appreciated.

Because I’ve taken at least three Microsoft exams in the last five years (probably around a dozen or more), I was recently invited to participate in the Microsoft Learning Rewards program. The program encourages the distribution of discount exam vouchers amongst the IT Professional community. I just signed up for it and generated 20 Microsoft Second Shot exam vouchers that are good in the United States and 20 that are eligible in the United Kingdom. Both sets of vouchers expire by June 30th, 2010. That means you must schedule and take both your first and second exam by June 30th, 2010.

Do you live elsewhere and would still like some Second Shot vouchers? I can generate vouchers for virtually any country on earth. Drop a comment and tell me what country you’d like codes for. Australia, anyone?

Note that these are not vouchers for free exams. You must pay the full price for a Microsoft exam, however, if you input this code in the “Voucher:” field in the Prometric sign-up process (just before you click the link to pay for the exam), you will be allowed to retake the exam one more time for free if you fail (as long as the retake is taken before June 30th, 2010).

But wait, there’s more! (I didn’t really say that, did I?) You can also use the Second Shot voucher code to get 40% off of any MeasureUp 60 Day Online Practice Test for a Microsoft product. The MeasureUp offer also expires June 30th, 2010.

Full Disclosure: I receive a “kickback” of sorts from this program. For every voucher that is redeemed, I receive 10 “points” that can then be converted into an item from the Microsoft Learning Rewards product catalog. At the moment, there are only two things available. The most valuable to me being a free exam voucher when I reach 60 points. It’s kind of a win-win situation for everyone.

Send this list to your friends, and if you want me to generate codes for more countries, just let me know! When you use one, post a comment including the code that you’ve used and I’ll cross that code off the list. Same goes for if you find a code that doesn’t work (probably because someone used it and didn’t notify me).

United States Second Shot Voucher Codes:

  • 9205DWV43G
  • 9205DWW1RC
  • 9205DWX5PF
  • 9205DWYTJL
  • 9205DWZNWG
  • 9205DX0UYD
  • 9205DX1BKD
  • 9205DX2GH8
  • 9205DX3M24
  • 9205DX4SS4
  • 9205DX5MBQ
  • 9205DX6421
  • 9205DX7SRF
  • 9205DX8TWD
  • 9205DX95JD
  • 9205DXA8UN
  • 9205DXB3J0
  • 9205DXCLBP
  • 9205DXD7WA
  • 9205DXE8SU

United Kingdom Second Shot Voucher Codes:

  • 9205DXHX7M
  • 9205DXJ2A4
  • 9205DXKPPC
  • 9205DXLJZF
  • 9205DXM5XV
  • 9205DXNCQN
  • 9205DXP8AN
  • 9205DXQK5R
  • 9205DXRD2K
  • 9205DXS9WZ
  • 9205DXTPYU
  • 9205DXUC1D
  • 9205DXV870
  • 9205DXWNPG
  • 9205DXX5M5
  • 9205DXY25X
  • 9205DXZZAQ
  • 9205DY01GE
  • 9205DY13MZ
  • 9205DY2KEU

After using Blogspot for over a year, I’ve switched over to my very own WordPress blog! Fare thee well Blogspot! You served your purpose but now I must depart for greener pastures and better plugins.

This blog is still a work in progress, so expect to see some changes occasionally while I settle into it. I’ve hacked around with it for a little over a week and think I’ve got the majority of the features enabled that I want. My only confusion is not knowing what to do with my old blog. Should I import all of my Blogspot posts? I think I might, but that would mean doing a massive cleanup on my tags which were becoming rather overgrown.

Let me know what you think, if you like the template, if you prefer to see different plugins or features. All comments are welcome. Guest blog posts are always welcomed as well. Back to the bit mines!

An image that says: Warning! Typos Ahead

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