Server Hosting: Finding the Best Company


Company:   Digital Forest (now Digital Fortress)

Friction Factor   =   HIGH FRICTION

12101 Tukwila International Blvd., Suite 410, Seattle, WA 98168 877-720-0483, 206-838-1630  


Since the sudden deterioration of Digital Fortress service we had to find a replacement company. Please see this article: for dedicated and hosted cloud servers



Digital Forest was recently bought out and its name changed to Digital Fortress. The new owners and new staff have totally changed the corporate culture and quality of service in a very negative way. Response time, with some exceptions, has gone into the toilet. Even for emergency situations, of which I have been experiencing multiple times now, response time is measured in many hours. When I call to get support after hours I reach a technician who listens and then reports that the help I need is in another department (even though I called the number I was given for my support department) and that I would have to be transferred. I would then have to wait for someone to come in at the normal start of business (noon my time) before the issue could be resolved. And then it is often hours more.

We started getting charged hundreds of dollars more and once the error was acknowledged I have been waiting months for credit to be applied. As of now it is still not been done and my inquiries about it and other promised information fall into a black hole.

I also learned that this revised company, being in the server hosting business, has nobody on staff who can handle simple SQL Server admin.

Not good.


On Hosting Services

For the last three decades I have been involved in the development of cloud-based software applications. In the pre-Web days this was accomplished via packet-switching networks like Infonet. With the growth of the Web, piggybacked onto the Internet, we gained much more convenient access to applications. The advancements in the Web since those days has, of course, been phenomenal.

If you want to create your own cloud-based application or just a regular website, you'll need a server for it that is connected to the Internet. Many companies do this with their own equipment, connections, and technical resources. Some even run web servers from home.

Your basic server hosting options:

  1. Option 1: Roll your own. Expectation: Pain—way more than you counted on unless this is a special area of interest and expertise for you and you are willing to have the equivalent of a costly high maintenance pet that must be cared for every day 24/7 for life (or you have the resources to pay someone else to handle all the maintenance, upgrades, babysitting, etc.) and your either have strong physical security for the server or that is somehow not a concern.
  2. Option 2: Subscribe to a shared hosting service. Expectation: Reduced cost, reduced performance, reduced options. I use this option via for this publication. The cost is miniscule, I don't have to configure my own leased dedicated servers to run it (Wordpress hosting is a cookie-cutter solution at Godaddy), I don't have to worry about it interfering with my business applications, and, as you may have noticed, performance sometimes stinks.
  3. Option 3: Colocate server and related equipment that you own at a hosting service. Expectation: Why? Your purchase cost is much less than the cost to lease the equipment from the hosting company. But then you are responsible for providing replacement equipment when needed (which can put you out of business for an extended period unless you maintain replacement equipment on site).
  4. Option 4: Lease a dedicated managed server(s) from a quality hosting service. Expectation: Angels sing if you make the right decision on the hosting company. If not, let's not quibble about it—you just reserved a condo in hell.
  5. Added on October 26, 2013: Option 5: Hosted cloud server(s). Expectation: Angels sing with heavenly symphony, but see previous comment about making the right decision for the hosting company. I have visited hosting hell. You do not want to go there.

    This option has become a preferred option since I originally wrote this article. With a hosted cloud server you enjoy the benefits of a dedicated server with much greater convenience and lower cost.

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    A hosted cloud server is a virtual server. The server, including firewall if desired, can be set up in minutes. The hosting company maintains backups of its cloud server infrastructure. So if something happens to your virtual server, it can be restored or "components" replaced very quickly, greatly minimizing the single point of failure risks of hardware failures. Changing server resources such as RAM and disk space is a simple process that can be managed almost immediately from your control panel (versus a process of ordering and waiting for the installation of new hardware).

    With modern technology, the virtual servers in a hosted cloud service have as good performance as their dedicated server counterparts.

    For HIPAA compliance, the law is not yet clear on whether a hosted cloud server can meet the requirements. A hosted cloud server is on "shared" hardware, however, it is secure and may pass a HIPAA audit, maybe even likely if a private cloud is set up (somewhat higher cost).

    Hosted cloud servers are more easily scalable and, like dedicated servers, can be used for special requirements such as geographic redundancy, load balancing, and data warehousing.

Here's my rather strong opinion about server hosting: If yours is a business application and you're serious about its success, then you be the expert in your business and let the right server hosting company be your expert in that part of the business. I have zero interest in providing my own Internet server hosting solution, even if it saves significantly on the cost. Setting up a server as an Internet-based host is not all that big a deal. Keeping it up and maintained is a very big deal.

Do you really want to be on call 24/7/365 and have to deal with IIS, DNS, and IP settings and changes, third party software management, email server configuration and maintenance, SMTP changes, data backup chores, operating system upgrades, security settings and rules, and the myriad other details that must be managed for the smooth operation of your servers?

With our dedicated leased servers, we get RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access. So my developers and I have full, secure, unrestricted access to our servers. We can do anything we need to do, but because of Digital Forest's expertise and great customer service attitude, we don't have to worry about any of the server maintenance and management. We can spend our time on the things that are directly important to our business. Besides, Digital Forest techs do this regularly and can do it much faster and with less chance of error than we could do. Well, I can say that about Digital Forest, but the reality with any other company I've tried has been just the opposite.

Tip: don't base your hosting decision on the base cost of the hosting service. That is the smallest of your costs. It's all the rest that may be the difference between being profitable and sane.

Pick the Right Server Hosting Company

First, let's make some assumptions about what a server hosting company must have just to be considered. Your candidate server hosting company will have racks filled and to be filled with rackmounted computers and network gear in a climate controlled facility. It will have high bandwidth Internet-backbone connections with redundant service. It will have a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art network operations center (NOC) with physical access security and serious uninterruptable power backup capabilities tied to battery and filtered generators. It will have top line data backup facilities and off-site data backup rotations.

Then comes the huge differentiator—your server hosting company will have competent technical talent.

Over years I've tried a variety of dedicated leased server hosting companies including what was, at least at the time, the largest in the country, Interland. I blame them for my bald dome. I couldn't even begin to convey the degree of contempt I acquired over the extreme incompetency these companies exhibited time after time. I could never trust them to do even the simplest task correctly. If I needed, for example, a simple DNS change, I came to expect that my site would be down for periods ranging from hours to days as a result of it being done incorrectly, and then incorrectly again when their mistake was "fixed"...even if I exactly spelled out to them what to do. It got to where I couldn't trust them to manage my servers and I had to do it all myself via RDP connection.

What is the Low Friction Solution?

With this single recommendation I can save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in grief, lost employee time, sacrificed customer goodwill, and real dollars. It will far more than cover your cost for subscribing to this publication. Wait... there is no subscription cost here. Ok, just send me 10% of what you figure you've saved.

Go to Digital Forest. Now is recommended.

Their website may not be very sexy, but they have the right facilities, they have the right people, and their people are highly competent. When I submit a request on the Digital Forest online help desk, it is completed in a timely manner, it is done right (the first time), and it is done with a wonderfully positive customer service attitude. And they are competitively priced.

Where with the other hosting companies I had constant grief that cost far more than the hosting service, I have now been with Digital Forest for several years and have not had even one bad experience. They do it right. Clean and simple.

We started out with a simple two server solution, a production server and a development server. For our healthcare industry solution,, Digital Forest has configured for us a leading edge server farm with several virtual servers in a secure three-tier architecture, RAID, redundant power supplies, hardware firewall and other security services, network switch, etc. In addition they host all of our email domains on their own top line email servers including anti-virus and spam protection and provide us with excellent email management tools.

When we are ready they will be able to scale our server farm to add file servers, geographically dispersed and balanced mirrors, and anything else we need in the network and Internet world because they really know this stuff.

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Copyright 2013

Synchronizing Outlook on Two Computers


Friction Factor   =   NOW HIGH FRICTION


IMPORTANT UPDATE ON FEBRUARY 21, 2013 went out of business awhile back. One of the original developers is taking it over and changing it to a more sustainable subscription model. However, when coupled with the fact that confidential data will be passing through their server and the lack of track record, I cannot recommend this service now.

I have made the switch to using Google Apps along with Google Sync for Outlook. It is a terrific solution. Now my email (for all of my external, non-Google email accounts), contacts, and calendar stay in sync between Outlook, the Google cloud, and my smartphone. It is beautiful to behold and works perfectly. It took quite a bit of time to get it configured properly but that also highlighted an amazing level of customer service provided by Google. And I have documented what I had to do including several missteps that were corrected with technical help, so I can pass all of that along to you so it will be easier and faster for you. I am very pleased and now strongly recommend that Outlook syncing solution.


The Problem to Solve
I want to keep Outlook synced between my desktop and laptop computers. I sought a simple, elegant, transparent solution that just works and does not require Outlook to be manually closed on both computers before it can sync.

Seeking a Solution
Over the years I have tried many solutions, but kept ending up with a painful reality—having to manually close Outlook on both computers, then copy my PST from one to the other whenever I needed to use the laptop. This really limited using my laptop at home and made it a pain to prepare for travel. But I rely on Outlook so much that this was what I had to do.

Some people sync messages, contacts, and calendar by using an online service like Outlook Hotmail connector or the less-than-simple Microsoft Exchange solutions (if you use Exchange). Those are not good solutions for me. I have tried several third party products and services but have been disappointed in all of them until I discovered a couple of years ago.

Solution Found
Every few months I would Google search to see if a real solution had been made available yet. Finally I discovered As I reviewed the claims on its site, I became more and more excited but still wondered when the shoe was going to drop. It didn’t. Some things were not completely clear to me on their website, so I wrote to them and, lo!, they responded within a day, sometimes on the same day. So I got my license and installed on both computers (it runs as a background service). Setting up an “Outlook Group” for the computers was straightforward. Within minutes Outlook was successfully syncing in real-time between my two computers.

Whenever something changes in Outlook on one computer, it is immediately reflected in Outlook on the other computer—just as I dreamed it would work. I’ve always thought that I am surely not the only person on the planet who would benefit from such a solution. I was amazed first of all that Microsoft itself does not offer the right solution. But I am ever grateful to have discovered

I was nervous about my Outlook data being passed through a remote server. I was assured that the connection is secure and that it simply passes through; it is not stored on their computers except for the time needed to complete a synchronization. There is still a vague worry about my Outlook data passing through an outsider’s grasp, so there is a degree of trust one must hope will never be compromised by But the benefit gained is compelling.

I have been using for over a year and a half. It has brought a real, honest to goodness burden relief to my life. It just works. It doesn’t matter which computer I want to use at any given time. Outlook data is the same on both.

Not only does it work on my home network but, by virtue of it being an online service, real-time syncing continues automatically no matter where I am as long as I have an Internet connection to both computers.

Now my email, calendar, and contacts stay in sync automatically on both of my computers. Massive relief.

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It Does More also synchronizes selected folders between computers, but I already use Microsoft’s Live Mesh for this and am very happy with it. I also use Sync Toy when I want to do one-way synchronizations that are non-destructive at the destination. For example, if I accidentally delete a folder of family photographs on one computer, I sure don’t want to instantly lose my backup copy through a syncing action.

Editions offers at 30-day free trial. There are three “editions” – Personal, Business, and Manager. The personal edition includes licenses for three computers. As of the date of this article, pricing options and a features comparison table can be found at

Unlike most cloud-based services, this pricing is for a perpetual license. This is an amazing deal for their customers. If they change their mind and go to annual subscriptions, it won’t hurt my feelings. They are well worth it, and I want them to be in business for a long time to come.

Very Important Note
Don’t trust any software or service or yourself to not foul up. Before running, make sure you first make a copy of the active Outlook PST files on both computers. That way, if something messes up or if you delete the destination archive folder before discovering there was something else you wanted to save… you still have it in your backup files. I suggest that you regularly archive copies of your PST files anyway.


  1. If you have set up Outlook for timed receiving of your email, then you do not want to manually retrieve the same email on the other computer (we'll call it the secondary computer). Otherwise you’ll be inundated with duplicate emails as they sync from one computer to the other. In this case, set up Outlook on the secondary computer so that it does not receive email. To make this suggested change:
    • On your "secondary" computer, go into Outlook Options to Send/Receive Groups. In Outlook 2010 do this via File => Options => Advanced => Send/Receive.
    • Scroll down to the Send and Receive section and click the Send/Receive button.


    • Edit the Send/Receive groups on this computer to only Send email. Your "primary" computer will continue to receive email which will be synced to the secondary computer.
    • If the primary computer stops receiving and syncing email for any reason, you can still use Outlook's Send/Receive options in the main ribbon to manually request email from one or all of the accounts you have set up.
    • As you can see in the above image, I have created Send/Receive groups in my Outlook: All Accounts Send Only, will send my email when I press F9. I prefer that my email not be sent immediately...too many oops factors. Another group is for Timed Receive which I use on my primary computer to check for new emails every few minutes. This group is disabled on my secondary computer to avoid getting duplicates when gets the same emails from the primary computer. Similarly, the group Send and Receive All Accounts is disabled on my secondary computer. It is the one I use on my primary computer for F9 manual email processing.
  2. Keep your messages on the server for a short time. I have several POP3 email accounts set up in my Outlook. For each one, I have gone into Account Settings => More Settings => Advanced tab. There I check the delivery option to leave a copy of messages on the server for one day. Then, if syncing is down for any reason, I can always manually retrieve the day’s email on my laptop. The side effect is that when syncing comes back on, another copy of those messages will come in. Alternatively, I can check my messages via Web access to my mail account.

A Few Friction Factors
Low friction does not mean friction-free.

  1. If an import is aborted, the option to do the import goes away. How to get it back so the data does get imported into the other computer’s Outlook? You have to remove your syncing group, recreate the group, and start a new sync.
  2. does not yet sync folder changes; i.e., when you rename, move, or remove Outlook folders. That must still be done manually. This is frankly a pain.
  3. You can sync new folders. The process is not exactly intuitive but it is straightforward:
    • Right click the icon in the sys tray and open
    • Click “Details” for your Outlook Group.
    • Click the plus icon in the Outlook Folders section to open an “Add Outlook folders” window.
    • Check the box for the highest tree branch with “Automatically select subfolders” checked. You can scroll the list to see which new folders have been selected.
    • Click “Next” and “Next” again, then, after it completes packaging the new folders, click “Finished.”
    • You’ll see a notification on the other computer that an import is ready to be loaded.
  4. When initially syncing from one computer to another, the documentation is not clear on a couple of points. The computer selected to initiate the syncing matters. If Outlook is out of sync between the two computers, then create the “Outlook Group” from the computer that is most current. I always set it to back up the folders on the destination computer and create new folders to exactly match those on the source computer (note: for some reason, this is not the default setting). Select Folders

    Then I delete the backup folder created by on the destination computer.

    If there is any content on the destination computer that you want to preserve, then simply open the backup folder created by, drag folders or messages or other items to the "new" folders, then delete the backup folder.

  5. Infrequently the service is down for short periods (for maintenance I presume). This will, of course, normally happen as a Murphy strike…right when it’s inconvenient to happen. But it has been such a rare issue that I hesitate to even mention it.
  6. For some reason iCalendar messages do not sync. So when I get an invitation to a meeting, I don’t see it unless I am at my desktop computer. I’ve inquired with on this.
  7. The personal subscription is limited to 300 folders. How to know when you’re getting close to going over 300? I do not know of a way to get a folder count in Outlook. I upgraded to the business version and that limit has gone away.
  8. A rare possible inconvenience: You cannot move your license to another computer unless both are on the Internet.
  9. IMPORTANT: To back up your active pst file, Outlook cannot be running. And if is running, then the PST file is still locked even if you have closed Outlook. If you exit, the process is still running, so the PST file is still locked. To get around this you must:
    • open Task Manager by right-clicking the taskbar, and click Start Task Manager
    • click the Processes tab
    • find SyncingOLWatchService.exe and SyncService.exe
    • click each one to select it and then click the End Process button
    • close Task Manager and backup your Outlook PST file
    • restart Outlook which will automatically restart
  10. I wish when changing computers or reinstalling Windows, the process of resyncing would be easier.

If you use Outlook on two (or more) different computers and need to keep Outlook in sync on each of them, then I strongly recommend

Has the information in FrictionFactor been helpful to you?

Please take a moment now to support this effort with a donation. It is processed securely by Paypal. While any amount is appreciated, you might consider your cost or friction savings. Thank you!


Copyright 2013