Is Your Site Down? Database?

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Do you know? How about your database? Is your domain resolving? Are your site and pages up but just serving database errors?

We actually had an instance a couple weeks ago where our site was fully operational, but we were running into issues with the number of database connections. Unfortunately, we found out by an unhappy client notifying us. He didn’t understand why he had to bring it to our attention – he was right!

My predecessors had done the right thing and signed up with a monitoring service. It was a fairly pricey service at $49.95 per month. When I logged in, I was immediately lost trying to find my way around but I eventually figured out that we were only resolving our home page. We weren’t testing for an SSL certificate, we weren’t testing our subdomains, we weren’t checking whether or not the database was responding.

I quickly began to add another check and moved the time from 5 minute intervals to 1 minute intervals. When I clicked to submit the new ‘watch’, I was shocked to see that I would be charged a $99 setup fee and another $49.95 per month. That’s right – a $99 setup fee for something that I set up!!! I logged out and began searching for a new service.

I jumped on Twitter (my new search engine) and good friend, Ade Olonoh of Recursive Function, came to the rescue. (More blogging – less twittering Ade!)

pingdom panelAde pointed me to Pingdom. Pingdom has an incredibly clean interface with very robust features. I programmed a couple of API calls for our application to ensure that the database was running and then I setup Pingdom to pass the calls and check the response.

The service is very reasonable as well. The basic is $9.95/mo and allows 5 checks, 20 SMS messages, unlimited email, uptime and load time reports, checks down to every minute, HTTP, HTTPS, TCP, Ping and UDP checks, etc. The Business service allows 30 checks and 200 SMS messages. They also have a very robust API if you’d like to integrate your monitoring.

The probe servers are in Dallas, Berkeley, Amsterdam, Vasteras, and Reading. I am trying to find out if I confirmed with Pingdom that we can bypass the SMS by simply building an email list of SMS email addresses for our staff’s mobile phones.

I also wrote the company with a feature request. It would be fantastic if, aside from Email and SMS alerts, they allowed an HTTP Request. This would allow me to monitor one of our 3rd party vendors who has been having issues lately. If I could have Pingdom make a request to my server, I could automatically switch our services over to a backup. Once the system came back up, I could have it switch back. I could do this with email; however, the delay could bite us.

We have 29 days left on the trial. As long as we don’t see any issues, we’re going to jump on the basic package. That alone will save us a few bucks and provide us with much more comprehensive site monitoring!


  1. 1

    I was also surprised at the prices of some of the monitoring services and the fees they were charging. Pingdom looks to be a good service. I settled on AlertBot (about the same price) almost a year ago and have been pleased with their service. Since you do all of the setup yourself and everything else is automatic from there on, $50 per month should be buying an incredible basket of services.

    I’m looking for some of these monitoring services to include a Twitter interface for notifications in the near future. Using Twitter so that any number of people could “follow” the alerts would be an excellent capability, in my opinion.
    Roland Smith

  2. 2

    Thanks for that product review Doug. Please let me know how things go at the end of 30 days. That is about when we plan to put in our monitoring too.


  3. 3

    Great review Doug. And you’re dead right that just checking for HTTP port status is not enough.

    We’ve been using Pingdom with FormSpring for over a year and are happy with the service.

    We setup a similar check — created about a dozen unit tests against the application using our API (e.g., can a form be submitted, can we see the expected data in the database, etc.) and output a PASS or FAIL status to a file. Then Pingdom checks that file via HTTP to make sure that the message says PASS, else alerts go off like crazy.

  4. 4

    I just want to introduce 2 more services – free and premium monitis monitoring services. One of their advantage you can combine external page load monitoring with systems resource monitoring and be notified about low systems resource. Then you can really be proactive not only fixing but preventing a failure. Give it a try!

    • 5

      Hi Hovhannes,

      Those are definitely options and I actually do have a account. However, the usability of Pingdom as an application is much simpler. I could not figure out how to do some of the checks using It appears monitis is organized similarly.


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