Two sites I maintain that are hosted elsewhere do not contact me when there are server outages. This has led to a few near heartattacks when the sites have gone down periodically. Are there any free utilities out there that trace and ping sites and perhaps send out an e-mail when there are outages? Any help or recommendation is greatly appreciated.
If you have dedicated server capacity somewhere to install your own scripts then Nagios [nagios.org] is a popular choice - it's a good open source service monitoring / availability checker. It's not a service you'd subscribe to - you'd have to install the software and manage it yourself.
Also keep in mind that tracert and pinging the server doesn't necessarily tell you much. We routinely use WebTrends 'Alert & Monitoring' that pings our various servers, but the server can often be running - and pinging normally - yet Apache has crashed and not serving the web pages.