Issue #3  6/25/1999
The eBay Shutdown And A Personal Miracle

By Alex Novak

I am happy to report that I was blissfully unaware of the Ebay database server crash that occurred on June 10 and extended through nearly June 15, in terms of impact.  However, upon returning from Paris, I became quickly aware of the press reports (particularly in the high tech magazines like Internet Week) of the fiasco and I experienced my own little Ebay miracle (no, not avoiding this mess).  A REAL LIVE PERSON CALLED ME FROM EBAY WHO ACTUALLY APOLOGIZED FOR THE SHUTDOWN. 

Yes, that's right you don't have to read this twice.  She told me of the company's commitment to hire the best consultants and to put in a redundant system to provide backup.  I took the occasion to ask her a number of questions, including how exactly the Ebay purchase of Butterfield & Butterfield is going to effect each organization, and is Ebay going to buy Swann, as is rumored.  She said she'd have someone get back to me.  Guess what.  Yeh, no call back yet.  But she was very nice.

In any case, the $5 million blip in Ebay's financials and big stock price drop--down to a low of 133, now back up a good bit--even caught the attention of Meg and Pierre (Ebay's founders) themselves, who have actually signed a letter on the Ebay announcement board, apologizing for the outage and pledging better emphasis on the fundamentals (like site stability) rather than the bells and whistles.  We-e-e-l-l-l-l, unfortunately on June 28 and 29, the site got hit with CGI spikes in its CGI server pool, one of the problems in the earlier disaster.  Then on June 30 the site's database servers (the other problem in the big crash) had problems for several hours.  The saga continues.

According to Internet Week, Ebay suffered the earlier site-killing database and CGI server failures a mere two weeks before implementation of a high availability Sun Solaris-based system would have provided hot backup for the corrupted systems.  Looks like they're still behind schedule in their implementation or something else is amiss.

The hot-backup capability "might not have prevented the outage," according to Ebay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove, "but it would have shortened it by 20 or 21 hours."

According to Internet Week, the problems on the earlier system failure weren't a lack of redundancy, but a lack of a system software patch and an Ebay IT staff who were troubleshooting an applications performance problem by running complex diagnostics on a LIVE server.  Ebay said that these claims were "inaccurate" but declined to provide any further details, according to the magazine.  

The Nielson/Net Ratings noted that page views on Ebay dropped by 51% on June 11, but many of the customers and dealers were back by the next week.  But Ebay and other on-line alternatives generally experience a sharp slow down from just prior to July 4th to after Labor Day in Sept., as vacations and good weather take their toll on computer bidders.  I will probably not post much now until the Fall because of this factor.  But I'll spend the time trying to work on my upcoming web site.

By the way, if you think that the problem is just Ebay's, you're probably incorrect.  According to Internet Week, the situation could hit nearly any major interactive site.  Ebay's problems are just a reflection of their success, with the huge amount of buyers trafficking the site, but that's why most dealers use it.

We'll have to see what will happen at Sotheby's, who have teamed up with Amazon's auction team (now Amazon has one of the worst auction sites that I've ever experienced) to launch their higher end auction site this month!  Right in the middle of the summer doldrums.  S-m-a-a-r-r-t-t.

I'm still waiting to hear from Christie's on their on-line auction site.

Novak has over 47 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Photographic Historical Society (APHS). He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, or AIPAD. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and has sold at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, Art Miami, etc.