Archives for August 2006
Review: Rack911 – Server Administration Services
We recently had the need to get some Linux expert knowledge to perform an upgrade on one of our own servers. In this case the actual task would be easy, but the fall back procedure and requirements would be a little more complicated. And in such a case we rather outsource these tasks to somebody who does them more often and has the knowledge at hand to deal with a critical issue if such a migration would fail. After doing some research we found Rack911 – a highly recommended company from several sources. We send in a sales inquiry and had a reply within the hour and a quote within 2 hours.
We decided to use Rack911 services especially as we will get another server soon and need some expert knowledge for the initial server hardening and setup. If they would do good work at the other server, it would be a good sign and we can give them another order accordingly. We placed the order on Thursday before noon and the work was performed in the maintenance window we had given them without any problems. Everything worked out good. The communication was excellent as well. We were very impressed with the professionalism of Rack911. From the initial contact until the order was completed and we made our payment – we were very satisfied.
What services does Rack911 offer at all?
Rack911 offers hourly admin work for Linux/FreeBSD and Windows. These services include Software installations, disaster recovery services, Troubleshooting and migrations.
Kernel Upgrades are handled differently from hourly work. Different Kernel platforms are covered, so that no need should be left open.
Operating System Migration
For Linux-based operating systems Rack911 offers migration packages to suit their customers needs accordingly.
Additional Services are as follows:
– Extreme Linux Security Plan
This plan includes the upgrade of the server packages and kernel, Mod_Security for Web Attack Protection, Email Security, an IP Tables Firewall, /tmp directory hardening. This plan is based as a one-time service at a very reasonable fee.
– Linux Administration Plan
The Linux Administration Plan is a monthly recurring plan. It is pretty much outsourced system administration for Linux servers and includes all kinds if services. So, whoever has a high need for a system administrator on a recurring base, should look into a plan like this.
Initial Server Setup (with a control panel)
This is the product we will sign up for once the new server comes online. This plan includes the following items: • Extreme Linux Security Plan• Control panel configuration (includes setting up ips, dns, etc) • PHP Recompile to include frequently requested functions (gd, mcrypt, curl, etc.)• Installation of one 3rd party software. • Configuration changes to your specifications
Prices of Rack911 are reasonable. Yes, you can get system administration cheaper than what Rack911 offers, but when it comes to quality and server security not all the better offers live up to their hype. Sometimes you get what you pay for and having a server hacked due to sloppy implemented security is not good.
We give Rack911 two thumbs up.
A new Web Hosting Business Model – Part II
Imagine a rack filled with 10 physical 2U servers, 2 NAS appliances, a large switch, and a firewall device providing a platform for 150-200 virtual servers with storage and backup to NAS (that’s what the second NAS appliance is for). Yes, this will require a large investment, but the ROI can be tremendous. You can sell physical-class virtual servers for physical-class prices on a fraction of the foot print it would take if you would go physical all the way. Imagine the reduction in hardware cost comparing the purchase of 150 servers compared to 10. We’re talking hardware and support cost in this case. Imagine leasing 1 single rack with a nice bandwidth package on top of it and compare it to the expense you would have leasing several racks to provide the same platform if you would go physical.
Now lets have a look at some of the functionality of VMWare and what it can do for you. Ever heard of "VMotion"? The VMotion functionality allows you to hot migrate a VM (Virtual server) from one host to another without ANY interruption for the customer. Example: You experience a hardware problem on one of your physical servers and need to power it down for maintenance. Happens to physical machines and usually affects 1 server and 1 customers. Instead of shutting down the virtual machines, you just "vmotion" the VMs to another host without any interruption of service for the customer. If properly setup VMware allows you to do this. You replace the hardware and move the machines back to the server when it is back up. Again, no interruption for the customer. Example 2: One of your customers websites becomes extremely popular after being mentioned on the news. The site is flooded with traffic. In the old world it would probably kill the server and take the site down due to the traffic. With VMware you allocate more resources available to the machine and within minutes the server is much more powerful and capable of handling the traffic. Not enough resources on this host server left? Migrate some less resource intensive machines (VMs) with VMotion off to another host to free up resources and you are good to go. You get the idea.
It happens every once in a while. Hardware dies and takes down an entire server. It can take hours to have the server hardware replaced and to bring it back up. If this happens to a VMware host, this would be pretty bad. VMware Infrastructure takes care of this problem for you while you work the hardware issue. With preset rules and procedures in place, VMware Infrastructure sees the host down, grabs the machines (VMs) and powers them back on – on the remaining physical hosts in your farm. Downtime for the customer just a few minutes.
How does this all work? By using the farm approach the virtual machine hard drives are stored on the NAS or SAN – accessible from all physical machines. If a host goes down the virtual machine hard drives are accessible from another host and VMware will bring up the server (virtual server) on a different host automatically and connect to the virtual hard drive. The key is to share the resources across the board and to provide sufficient internal connectivity so that resources can be accessed from anywhere within the farm.
The initial setup of a VM Farm requires a significant investment. The savings in hardware and administrative work however will pay for this investment very fast. The ROI is tremendous and significantly higher compared to deploying physical servers and renting them out.
A new Web Hosting Business Model – Part I
So many companies have already promoted "The Future of Web Hosting". Searching for the future of web hosting on Google returns only 109,000,000 results. That is a pretty large result for the future. Well, here is a future for web hosting that will eventually open opportunity for new web hosting businesses to find an extremely profitable niche market.
Currently VPS (Virtual Private Servers) are a hot commodity, but I think they will become obsolete soon. Why settle for a part of a server in a software capsule if you can get a full dedicated server for pocket money? How does this work? What is the trend that not many web hosts have picked up yet?
Keyword "Virtualization". This summer VMware released the next version of their ESX server product – called VMware Infrastructure (or version 3.0 of ESX if you want to call it that way). The product runs as a very small Linux server OS and allows to provide virtual machines of all different kind of operating systems. The beauty of this product are the ease of administration, high availability, dedicated resources for each client, automation, and quite a few things more.
But why is VMware a great option for web hosting?
The beauty of using VMware for web hosting is the same as in overselling shared web hosting. 90% of the time servers will not use all the resources they have been assigned. Virtual Servers share the host hardware in regards to memory, CPU, and network. They get – however – dedicated disk space assigned. In a production environment it looks like that under normal circumstances a moderately powered server can be a host server for 10-20 virtual machines. For a web host who has to pay for power, hardware, cooling, and for rack space that can mean significant savings. Imagine that 2U physical server holding 10 virtual servers for customers. Even if you use only 1U per server you would have to use 10U of rack space to get those 10 servers online. A new 2U server from Dell or HP can provide enough memory, CPU, and disk space to provide resources for 10 dedicated virtual servers.
Calculation (high level):
Physical Server cost: $12,000.00
Cost per month (36 months): $333.33
2U Rack space w. Bandwidth/Power per month: $700.00
Total Cost: $1,033.33 per month
Sales Price Virtual Server (moderately equipped):
$200.00 per month x 10 VMs = $2,000.00 / month
That makes for a very nice margin that leaves room for some extra expenses, system administration, etc.! Considering that you do not have to worry about 10 physical servers to experience hardware problems, you would only have to worry about 1 (one) server. For clients leasing a server the difference between leasing physical dedicated server or a virtual dedicated server is pretty much invisible. They get the same resources and the same environment.
Of course this calculation leaves out quite a few things, but it is only very high level to give you an idea of how web hosting can look like using VMware ESX server / VMware infrastructure as your server platform. Using VMware for web hosting on a single server is very shortsighted and expensive as the benefits really start kicking in when used in a (small) farm setup with several physical hosts and NAS or SAN storage.
Continue reading here.
Softlayer.com Special Deals
Whenever someone is need of a new leased dedicated server, it is nice to find special pricing for the purchase. Buying a server is expensive and even $10.00 off per month can make significant savings over an anticipated period of 3 years. Softlayer.com is currently one of the hottest providers in the market and getting a special deal from does not happen too often.
I am in the market for a new dedicated server myself and so I looked all the available offers over on Webhostingtalk.com. I could not really find one matching my needs. The only thing I ran into for Softlayer.com specials was the following:
SoftLayer Demsey & Woodcrest Servers with KVM over IP. Priced starting at $249.
Configuring one of these servers with RAID 1, more memory, CPanel, extra IPs and external storage turned out to be way out of my budget. So, that did not do me any good. I decided to contact sales to see if they have any specials coming up or would be able to cut me a deal on the server I wanted.
My sales inquiry email was responded to within 45 minutes after I had send. Unfortunately I did not receive an offer for special pricing. Amanda of Softlayer marketing pointed out that my desired server was sold out anyway. She explained to me that the current pricing without setup fees would be the only special they currently have. I do not mind paying setup fees if I can shave off $10.00 of my monthly bill, but she did not go for that suggestion following my second email. Instead she went ahead and explained several of their top features that would make it worth paying the price Softlayer has been asking for. The nice thing – it did not sound like normal sales talk, rather more that she used the opportunity to explain to me as a valued customer the value Softlayer.com delivers and that they really would like to get my business. I have seen other companies use such an opportunity to start the normal advertising spiel, but Amanda / Softlayer did not sound cheap when denying my question for a special.
I am not 100% sold yet on Softlayer.com even if they currently have one of the best reputation when it comes to leased dedicated servers. I still have a few days time before ordering a server and I hope that Labor Day will bring some interesting specials from some of my preferred providers to the market.
Comparison: ThePlanet.com and Softlayer.com – Dedicated Server and Add-on Prices
At a certain point a web host has to think about getting dedicated servers. Leasing a server is often the first step to building the next successful web host startup. We are going to compare some of the more common add-on features of dedicated servers from 2 of the more popular providers for dedicated servers. We also looked common prices for popular server configurations with both providers. We looked at the websites of theplanet.com (ServerMatrix) and softlayer.com for this review. Please keep in mind that prices can vary and that each provider might apply different prices at different models of servers. For this review we concentrated on exactly the same features (e.g. hard drive size, number of IP addresses, cpanel license, etc.).
Secondary Hard Drive / 250 GB
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com = $60.00 per month
Softlayer.com = $20.00 per month
100 Mbps Uplink
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com = $10.00 per month
Softlayer.com = $10.00 per month
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com = $20.00 per month
Softlayer.com = $25.00 per month (includes RVSkin)
Additional IP Addresses /
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com = $8.00 per month / 13 IP Addresses
Softlayer.com = $12.00 per month / 16 IP Addresses
Network Attached Storage
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com = $20.00 per month / 20 GB
Softlayer.com = $10.00 per month / 20 GB
Both providers offer initially low prices, but then choosing add-on services is bumping up prices significantly. We then tried to configure servers on both websites. The idea was to create orders for matching servers or at least as close as possible configuration-wise. Here are screenshots of the end results.
ServerMatrix / ThePlanet.com offers the better CPU and a minimum management plan, while Softlayer offers a significant lower price that leaves plenty of room to hire an external server management company and still save a good chunk of money. If a customer does not need the more powerful CPU the Softlayer.com offer is very compelling. It comes with more bandwidth and currently the better customer reviews.
See current specials at ThePlanet.com here.
Low-cost SSL Certificates from EV1
Over the years operating different websites I ran into several occasions where I finally needed my own SSL Certificate. What does an SSL certificate do at all? It provides security for client/server transactions. Online banking and online shopping are just 2 examples of situations where a SSL certificate is used to encrypt traffic between the client and the merchants website. I did spend quite a while on researching where to buy a low cost SSL certificate and ended up at EV1servers.net for the purchase. They had just started selling SSL certificates and the initial offer was dirt cheap. I could not resist.
First of all the price was extremely compelling. Second the signup process was easy and straight forward. The verification process of my identity was easy and quick. And third – the certificates actually are GeoTrust SSL certificates – a trusted provider on the Internet. EV1servers.net used their buying power to negotiate very low rates. And even as prices have gone up over the years, I think it is still one of the best deals on the Internet. Here prices for your review:
QuickSSL Premium $94.00
QuickSSL Premium $94.00
SSL Features and Benefits
- True 128-bit strong SSL encryption
- Free lifetime, self-service reissues
- 99% browser recognition rate
- Easy to use SSL certificate provisioning system
- Single root certificate
- AICPA Web Trust compliant
- Business registration (DUNS number equivalent)
Up to this point I have probably bought 5 or 6 RapidSSL certificates and have been very satisfied. I never had a customer complain about browser problems. If you buy Verisign certificates they really try to scare you about compatibility issues with lower cost certificates, but for a normal small business I have to say – screw that statement. I’d rather spend the money on improving my services and offer the visitors of my sites a better experience and lower prices (where applicable). They were easy to install through the WHM SSL section on my cpanel servers.
For a new web hosting business or a small web hosting business these price savings can add up. A SSL encrypted signup page fills your clients with trust. I highly recommend the low cost SSL certificates from EV1servers.net
PS: Please not that we are not associated with EV1servers.net.
Review Data393.com – Data center and dedicated servers
Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to visit the Data393.com data center located in the southern area of the DTC (Denver Technology Center) in Denver, Colorado. The facility is located near Interstate 25 and easy to find. Data393 is the result of buying/merging a couple of local hosting companies and by building services out of owned buildings with already integrated data center pieces. Data393.com is located in 2 buildings and has several smaller data centers on different floors of both buildings. One of the buildings is the former Cable & Wireless Data Center back from the big Dot Com Bubble days.
Security is high and not customer has access to the data center without being accompanied by Data393 personnel. Access cards, hand scanners, and a lot of other security related features are in place.
Data393 has some larger customers either occupying an entire cage or mini-data center room within the facilities as well as many other customers leasing rack space or entire racks. Single server space, 1/3 of cabinets, all the way up to a full cage are common requested packages.
As a premier provider of Colocation, Dedicated Servers and Managed Services, Data393 offers an array of services designed to more effectively manage IT infrastructures. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado our state of the art data center environment enables Data393 to offer your business enterprise level colocation and hosted solutions. End Quote
Unlike many other providers Data393.com has only limited information on their website about choosing a dedicated server from their services. Prices start at $249.00, but except for 2 or 3 additional pieces of information a customer has to either call or request a call back from the sales department. Comparing this to some other players in the dedicated server market, this is clearly a limitation when looking for a place to get a dedicated server. I inquired about 1/3 of a rack for my personal business needs and found the quoted price at the upper end of the US market. $399.00 per month with very limited bandwidth and power associated – there are much better offers available somewhere else.
However – the strength of Data393 seems to be customized services for local business partners. Data393 is clearly not really participating in the US market and is not competing with places like Theplanet.com, EV1 servers, GNAX, or HE.net. Another indicator for this is the missing availability of well-known software for the mass hosting market like cPanel. If you want to host with Data393.com, you will need to bring your own license. Another piece you need to bring is network equipment. By default no switches or routers of any kind are supplied as part of the service. For bigger players this is not an issue at all, but for a small host moving into their first own rack for colocation it can mean the additional expense.
Overall I was very impressed with Data393.com facilities and customer service. Unfortunately for me the high-end prices and the low end supply of bandwidth and features was not a good match. With different needs however, I would certainly consider Data393.com as they seem to offer great service and facilities.
Overselling gone way overboard: Site5.com – Product Review 2006
Site5.com is a web hosting company around for quite some time. Site5.com was founded in 1999 and has seen the up and downs of the industry during these years. They seem to be a stable company. Over the years we used their services and left with some good experiences as well with some not so good experiences. If you read some well-known web hosting forums you will run into the discussions about Site5.com every once in a while. It looks like Site5.com has some stretches with excellent service times and then some hiccups where the service or support level lacks a little bit.
We went to Site5.com’s website this past weekend to check out their current products and to provide a quick review of the same. We have been following the web hosting industry for quite a few years now the first thing that comes to mind seeing the web hosting products is:
Overselling gone way overboard!
We took the time to read the F.A.Q.s on Site5.com’s website and ran into the following statement:
My website gets a lot of traffic–will this be a problem?
This usually depends on the nature of your website. While relatively straightforward sites (think basic html/xhtml content, most shopping sites, webpages, blogs, etc.) can receive tens of thousands of hits at any given time and work perfectly fine, problems can arise with more complex sites–sites with lots of images, scripts or interactivity with visitors. Tens of thousands of users each accessing a database at the same time can cause quite a strain on a server and might be too much for a shared web hosting environment.
The thing to remember is that the term "shared hosting" (which is another term for standard web hosting) means that your site will share a server with other users. This allows for plenty of usage while keeping prices low, but certain sites may not be appropriate for such an environment. If you are unsure whether your high volume website will work with our shared plans, please feel free to e-mail our sales department, and we will be happy to assist you in determining the best solution for your needs.
After reading this we went back to their page that lists the available products (see screenshot below).
That does not match at all. If a website would use 500+ GB bandwidth or more a month, it would be way beyond a shared web hosting account. Joe Average might not know, but anyone with a little experience would be able to recognize this right away. Personally we do not mind overselling – if done in moderation and in an honest way. What turns us off is the clear discrepancy between was is offered as their base web hosting package and the disguised disclaimer in their F.A.Q.s.! We then looked the Terms of Service that Site5.com offers on their website and ran into the following statement (screenshot):
Putting these things together and looking at them with some experience as a web host or system administrator allows to judge the craziness of this offer and what would really happen to a client starting to use all the resources he signed up for. This is overselling gone way overboard and we think that Site5.com would do better with a more reasonable approach.
Enough complaining. Looking at the features that Site5.com offers, it looks a customer will get a loaded hosting package with everything and more he would ever need. A funny thing on the site – even with such generous bandwidth allowances on each hosting package, Site5.com still lists a fee for Bandwidth overage, One goody not every web host offers nowadays – Ruby on Rails is available at Site5.com. Also, if you are looking for PHP 4 AND 5 availability, Site5.com has it. Judging Site5.com on the features puts them in the top class of providers in the shared hosting arena.
Conclusion: Based on our own experience and word on web hosting forums, Site5.com is a stable web host usually providing excellent service. If you are a customer looking for a good web host at a reasonable price, Site5.com might be a good option. However – a customer has to keep in mind that the offered resources – especially bandwidth – are generous and that a client will most-likely never be able to use them due to the fine-print in the TOS and FAQs. Shared hosting usually ends in a reasonable area of about 50-60 GB on an account and a VPS or dedicated server is the next step up – not an account at Site5.com.