Drupal and the $6000 hosting bill, getting to the truth quickly
by Kieran Lal
It's political season here in the United States, and that means it's rumor time. Research has shown that if we are exposed to information as little as eight times we are more likely to believe it. Logic, facts, reason don't necessary apply to our human brains. Political strategist know this, marketers know this and they can use it in influencing you. Journalists know this too.
On Monday morning, Drupal got caught up in a [Updated]conjecture that it was the source of a bug that led to a $6000 hosting bill. It turns out that the backup and migrate module was installed in a hosting environment with limited resources. The back-ups were running automatically but failed to complete, most likely due to a PHP timeout or CPU resource limitation on compressing the back-ups. The result was that the temporary files created as part of the back-up were not being cleaned up and were accumulating. That accumulation lead to 100 GB storage overage charge which resulted in a greater than $6000 hosting bill. In most hosting environments, the temporary directory would have filled up and that would have been the end of it.
The problem was posted in the Drupal forums and the community jumped in and tried to help, making suggestion after suggestion, with out a full list of modules. The site owner decided to publish an article (part 1, part 2) to a popular political site Huffington Post, and then it got picked up by the consumerist.com. The hosting company jumped on to the story and worked to resolve it. But by that time the story had gotten picked up by Digg.com and was on the front page.
Over the next 24 hours over 40000 people read that "Drupal, which, like a cancerous tumor, was unstoppably copying thousands of temporary files" was the technical source of this problem. The article was really a criticism of the hosting company but facts were not going to get in the way of a good juicy read.
At the time the hosting company was running well over 10000 instances of Drupal, which were not reporting the same problem. In fact, according to the Drupal.org project usage logs there were at least 1719 sites using the 5.x version and 2093 using the 6.x version of the backup and migrate module without these problems.
I contacted the editors of the article and they were kind enough to update the article to take the heat off Drupal. But they put it on the less defended third party module. They also updated the article to include the technical explanation I provided. I am glad they were responsive.
I managed to get the module maintainer, Ronan Dowling on the phone and he was very helpful. Here's what he had to say:
I'm glad this situation ended well for Adam. I hope I can figure out exactly what happened here so I can make sure other people don't run into this, and in the meantime I'm going to redo the module's docs to make the configuration and troubleshooting steps easier.
Some people believe that responding to these kinds of allegations are below us. I tend to agree. I just wish it was below our brains.