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Best Way to Start a Website Hosting Service?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the don't-reinvent-the-wheel dept.

Businesses 164

Kwirl writes "Lets say that I wanted to start a small business endeavor, namely reselling my server space and offering pre-built websites. What resources would I need to start something like this on my own? What hosting service would best suit those needs? What would be the best way to manage a subdomain-level service that provided a basic forum, registration, a web site and some controlled administrative access for my friends so they couldn't easily terrorize each other? I'm curious to know if I could start something like this on my own, and without much more than just my own server space, time, and creativity. I'm not looking to make a living out of this, its mostly just a way for me to more efficiently manage having several friends each wanting me to built or run a web site for them, and perhaps make some small residual income if a market exists. The Slashdot community represents such a broad swath of experience and expertise that I'd like to know how you would approach a project of this nature."

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164 comments

Plesk (5, Informative)

nhtshot (198470) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525772)

1. Don't

But, if you insist..

Set up a simple box running Plesk. It automates most of the tasks of handling users, billing and maintenance. It also allows them to mange their own accounts.

Quick, simple

Re:Plesk (4, Interesting)

paitre (32242) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525780)

Run far, far away from Plesk.

It might simplify SOME things, but it sure as hell makes other things more difficult.

Re:Plesk (5, Insightful)

SausageOfDoom (930370) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526304)

Systems like that also do all the hard work for you - which is great if you know what you're doing, but otherwise when you run into a real problem, or if Plesk goes wrong, you have no idea what to do next.

I agree with the original comment of "dont", as far as setting up your own server at least.

Don't, because the market is full of bedroom hosts who don't know what they're doing.

Don't, because unless you're going into it seriously (and by that I mean investing time and money heavily, hiring enough staff to provide 24/7 support and decent SLAs, and charging appropriately serious money), the margins have to be so low to be competitive that you're losing money when the customer submits more than one ticket a year. Which they will do, because they've come to you, which means they don't know what they're doing.

But most of all, don't, because if you have to ask how to do it, you shouldn't be doing it. You really can't be going into this if you have so little understanding of the issues involved in running a server and the associated services that you need to ask. It's not fair on your paying customers, because when they have a problem, you won't be able to help.

If you want to resell space, do just that - go find a company dedicated to selling reseller accounts. They will give you a whitelabel reseller account and look after all the server issues themselves, leaving you free to pimp out the space.

If you do, just make sure you have an exit strategy, tied to some kind of dead mans switch (even if it's just leaving details with a friend) - I've heard of far too many resellers disappearing, leaving the customers unable to get access to their sites, and the resellers in a difficult position as they should have no direct contact with the end customers.

Re:Plesk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525810)



You mentioned:

1. Don't

Care to expand on this?

Re:Plesk (1)

mk_is_here (912747) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525984)

I think the web-hosting market is quite saturated.. Unless you have some brilliant idea or you have superior hardware and very cheap price, you will not attract customers.

My $0.02.

Re:Plesk (3, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526266)

I think the web-hosting market is quite saturated.. Unless you have some brilliant idea or you have superior hardware and very cheap price, you will not attract customers.

You simply aren't going to be able to compete with a $4.00/month multi-gigabyte hosting plan of which there are several. So don't try. Might as well try to open an independant drug store next to walmart.

Go the other way, find a niche that's NOT served by those guys and go for that.
Go after the people who need something unique and specialize in it.

Re:Plesk (2, Interesting)

oliderid (710055) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526488)

You simply aren't going to be able to compete with a $4.00/month multi-gigabyte hosting plan of which there are several. So don't try. Might as well try to open an independant drug store next to walmart. Go the other way, find a niche that's NOT served by those guys and go for that. Go after the people who need something unique and specialize in it.
So true

Being a web developer, I pay more just to have the privilege to get a phone number.Most of these big hosting companies provide very poor technical support. If you label yourself as a hosting company, with personalized contact (name, phone number, email address, etc.) I'm your client.

Something else:
  • Some "trendy" languages like Rail and to some extend Python lack aren't particularly well supported by most hosting companies.
  • Focus on CMS like Drupal, Joomla, typo3 and all these stuffs and try to find the extra valuable little service (preinstallation or I don't know).
  • Provide presintalled Framework like CakePHP
  • And so on...
Basically you should select a target group. Like web developers, then ask them what they need.Most would accept to pay more than $4 (a lot more), especially professional. I would certainly pay more just to get your phone number and being able to call you once a problem occured. But the biggest weakness would be to look like an amateur...If you can't proove me that you've got backup, raids, redundant hardware, redudant internet connection, etc. We won't do business. Otherwise I could do exactly the same in my office with cheap hardware.

Re:Plesk (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526074)

The part of web hosting that people think they have down is not the relevant part. Making a server run smoothly and securely on the big bad internet is an arduous task. Yes, you can probably do it, but it's so much work that nobody can afford it, unless you automate the heck out of it and distribute the cost over many identical servers, and that would require going big-scale. A small shop can never amortize the work that has to go into a single server. The necessity to scale up is what makes web hosting complicated: With more customers you're bound to get all kinds of problems which have nothing at all to do with having an internet connected computer running Apache somewhere. You can't break-even with just your friends, unless they themselves know what they're doing and are willing to pay more than an established company would ask, so you're going to have strangers as customers. Sometimes strangers don't pay. Sometimes strangers get you blacklisted. Sometimes strangers want support in the middle of the night. All of them want five-nines reliability for cents a day.

Re:Plesk (5, Funny)

12357bd (686909) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526232)

Making a server run smoothly and securely on the big bad internet is an arduous task.

Not so hard, ADSL + NAT(on router) + Linux + Apache + mod-security + static content

Now, managing users... that's hard!

Mod parent funny! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526364)

ADSL...

Re:Mod parent funny! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526880)

And the rest... Firewall? DMZ? Bastionisation? Patching?

Re:Mod parent funny! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527126)

If you've never hosted on a fast connection in the ip-neighborhood of other hosting servers, you might get the impression that keeping a server secure and running smoothly isn't a big deal, particularly if you've only hosted static content which doesn't attract attention (and it couldn't, due to the low bandwidth uplink). The real world, where people want to use content management systems, and hosting software updates break installed client software, is not that easy. Ask yourself this: Would you even notice a break-in?

Re:Mod parent funny! (1)

ATMD (986401) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527444)

Not to mention router NAT.

How many security holes do you think that black box firmware is going to have? (I'm assuming you're talking little home routers, given the ADSL thing...)

Re:Plesk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527162)

You lost me at ADSL. Is this a recipie for the worst web host ever?

Re:Plesk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525814)

I would highly suggest using cPanel/WHM on Linux instead of Plesk.

It's a lot more friendly to the technically adapt, and lets you a lot more freedom on the configuration of your server.

Oh yeah, and it comes with EasyApache which will make your life so much easier.

Re:Plesk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525838)

Plesk automates a lot of stuff for you, but if you ever try to do something different, it starts becoming difficult and near impossible.

Also...
Every control panel out nowadays allows you to handle users.

I'd want to keep billing separate.

As for maintenance, configuring plesk servers are goddamn annoying and frustrating.

Re:Plesk (2, Insightful)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526150)

1. Don't
I also clicked here just to say don't. Not unless you have: 1) Lots of experience administrating webservers. 2) A big fat pipe to the 'net. Both ways, not simply ADSL 3) Lots of hair on your head. Or none. Lots of hair will give you something to pull on. If you have none, then you won't loose anymore anyway. 4) Time and patience. Your users _will_ try to terrorize each other. And they will be attacked from outside. And their accounts _will_ be compromised. You will be to blame. Your best bet is to resell hosting from a managed provider, on their servers, with their tech support.

Re:Plesk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527072)

Don't use plesk. It is absolute garbage. You will just be throwing money away.

The biggest problem with Plesk is upgrading it. Upgrades almost never work, ultimately causing you to reinstall from a backup.

Trust me on this, I used plesk for years, and regretted every penny spent on it.

I have since moved to virtualmin - a much less expensive package, and painless and easy to upgrade. I have never had any problems with it, and my customers all love it.

Re:Plesk (1)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527120)

Transliterator 0.97:

[ START ]

"Lets say that I am too lazy to do any research, or figure out on my own what people want, but I want to start a small business endeavor, namely reselling my server space and offering pre-built websites, because I'm so into the '90s business model.

What resources would I need to start something like this on my own, and please remember, I don't know who my customers are going to be, or why they should deal with me. What hosting service would best suit those ill-defined needs?

What would be the best way to lock people into my subdomain-level service rather than just getting their own domain, so they can tell me to go fuck myself when I boost their rates?

I want to provide a basic forum, registration, a web site and some controlled administrative access for my friends so they couldn't easily terrorize each other, because my friends (both of them) would do that, since they're even bigger asshats than me.

I'm curious to know if I could start something like this on my own, and without much more than just my own server space, time, and total lack of creativity.

I'm not looking to make a living out of this (*cough*), its mostly just a way for me to more efficiently manage having several friends each wanting me to built or run a web site for them, and perhaps make some small residual income if a market exists, since the "residual income" from Amway, the "residual income" from the MLM selling herbal vitamins, and the "residual income" from selling people long distance packages didn't work out.

Now to suck up to you all ... The Slashdot community represents such a broad swatch of experience and expertise that I'd like to know how you would approach a project of this nature."

[ END ]

Re:Plesk (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527480)

What the fuck is this? Is this supposed to be funny or something? Don't be such a jerk and actually contribute to the discussion instead of trying to be an elitist ass.

But, then again, I wouldn't expect much from a user who fucking journals about getting a first post [slashdot.org].

Re:Plesk (1)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527462)

Don't run a host yourself. Sign up for a referral program.

You can make well over $50 a signup if you shop around. That's a significant part of a year's hosting fees, and you don't have to do a thing other than get people to click on a link and sign up.

Windows Server 2008 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525794)

All you'll need. /scarsam

CPanel (1)

concernedadmin (1054160) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525800)

Try using CPanel and limit shell access. If they know what they're doing and you know you know more, then go ahead (at an additional cost, of course).

Re:CPanel (4, Informative)

SimGuy (611829) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525930)

Don't use cPanel. While it automates a lot, it also makes lots of arbitrary modifications to the operating system rendering it annoying for use for anything else. Also, it and Plesk install lots and lots of extra things you will never use, wasting disk space and RAM without major tweaking and opening plenty of potential points of intrusion.

I work at a web hosting company and I find InterWorx to be the best at doing a little automation without making a mess of everything.

That said, if you know how to use Linux, don't use a control panel. You'll find it easier to manage things yourself. Short of the MTA, these things are really rather easy to configure.

Re:CPanel (2, Interesting)

Enleth (947766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526012)

DO NOT use cPanel. Never ever, please!

I've never seen a wep application with such a horribly contorted, uncomfortable, unwieldy and annoying interface. It's an abomination thrown in the face of UI and usability desingers and knowledgeable admins forced to use it to manage shared hosting accounts under their administration. It lacks any kind of consistency and logic and even encourages making the things worse by not enfocing any of those on the plugins written by the companies that use this bastard child of an administration panel.

Save a few poor people their grief and don't use cPanel,

If you have to ask.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525802)

I work in web hosting and to be honest if you have to ask that question you should not even try. I would suggest reading a few books, websites and possibly take a few courses in hosting realted fields. Then when you are able to answer your own question you will be ready.

Re:If you have to ask.... (1)

walt-sjc (145127) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526752)

Here is the thing. Generic "hosting" is not worth your time. Offer fully managed web services - that's the application and everything. That is where the money is. "Hosting", allowing people to host their own content / site on your machine will cost you more than it's worth. Even the big guys have trouble. The fact is, unless you are huge, you can't provide services anywhere close to the prices they charge. It will cost you more in bandwidth alone than you can charge for an entire hosting package.

How to succeed in 10 easy steps (5, Insightful)

name*censored* (884880) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525804)

1) Line up a patsy
2) Get some matches/lighter/firestarters
3) Burn down all competing datacentres in your city
4) Set up a webserver company

Seriously though, it's an incredibly overcrowded market - if you have an idea on something new or innovative to offer, then by all means go for it. But as they say, there's nothing new under the sun, and you'd have much better luck trying to compete within a market that isn't so overcrowded. Professional encryption/sensitive data management perhaps?

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525828)

1) Line up a patsy

2) Get some matches/lighter/firestarters

3) Burn down all competing datacentres in your city

4) Set up a webserver company

Seriously though, it's an incredibly overcrowded market - if you have an idea on something new or innovative to offer, then by all means go for it. But as they say, there's nothing new under the sun, and you'd have much better luck trying to compete within a market that isn't so overcrowded. Professional encryption/sensitive data management perhaps?
Professional encryption/sensitive data management perhaps?

Yeah, because that's a great field if you don't know what you're doing.

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (2, Insightful)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525992)

Symantec has proven that you can make alot of money on that market without a decent product.

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (1)

Baricom (763970) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526158)

Symantec is riding on brand recognition (back in the day, Norton knew his stuff; and today, people remember Symantec products that used to be quality). I don't know if the OP has that advantage.

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (3, Insightful)

WereCatf (1263464) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525854)

Seriously though, it's an incredibly overcrowded market - if you have an idea on something new or innovative to offer, then by all means go for it. But as they say, there's nothing new under the sun, and you'd have much better luck trying to compete within a market that isn't so overcrowded.
Very true. There exists about a gazillion different website hosting services, some even offer to do it for free if the site is static. I've seen some offer like 15e per year with full SSH access, PHP and such. So I just wonder what does the OP think he can offer that someone else doesn't already, and for a cheaper price?

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (3, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525970)

I think that's kind of the consensus here. The OP doesn't know that the 90's are long past and that once hot market is now saturated. There's only one chance any such endeavor could really work out and that where he simply knows enough people or knows enough people that know enough people to really trust this person with their site and doesn't care that there are services out there that will do it better and/or cheaper and that the number of subscribers is high enough to at least break even. All of that, in and of itself, is pretty difficult if not improbable.

I would recommend that this guy volunteer or intern with a hosting company to see what it's like and what the real challenges wind up being.

What I would be inclined to do is something a little different. I would set about getting people to buy their own gear and help them set it up at their own location. Perhaps it's ultimately as unworkable as building your own hosting facility, but at least in this case, the risk is distributed among the subscribers and since they would actually own and control their own boxes, they would feel less risk for themselves as well.

So what you end up with is they buy their own server hardware, power management and internet connection, you set up the software and remote access and management stuff, collect fees for getting it set up and arrange for maintenance fees monthly. The risk is all on the client, then, but as long as you are very open with them, you will retain them with a comfortable trust relationship because they know if they think they are getting screwed, they can get someone else to take over... and when they realize they weren't, they can come back to you at will. Meanwhile, your overhead is VERY very low, and when things go wrong at THEIR site (you know, like power or internet link), you aren't quite at responsible.

For small operations, business class broadband makes this a very workable possibility. Further, if an operation feels like they need a little more, then arrange to set up some hosts that, once again the client pays for, at a co-location facility. You take the lead as the technical contact, but the owner is the owner taking all of the risk and responsibility.

The one thing an operator like this can offer that the big, market-saturating hosting companies can't is a personal trust relationship allowing the client to be in as much control as they feel comfortable accepting. And if they won't accept enough control, you probably don't want them as a client anyway since they are probably looking to abuse you and point fingers at you when things go wrong.

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (4, Informative)

stevey (64018) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526510)

That's a great idea.

I originally setup xen-hosting [xen-hosting.org] selfishly because I wanted a decent root access level of hosting for myself, but didn't want to pay for a big machine.

Within a week I'd found enough users to bring the cost down to an acceptable level, primarily because a few people know me and trust me, but the intention was always there to document it fully and have people setting up similar things.

Two years on I'm not aware of anybody who's replicated the setup which is a real shame, I think there's a lot of space for a kind of "cooperative" hosting setup, each one with maybe 10 users.

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (1)

SimGuy (611829) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525954)

2) Get some matches/lighter/firestarters

3) Burn down all competing datacentres in your city
Most datacenter facilities are made of concrete, brick, and metal, which results in fairly low flammability. Interruption of power (if there are no generators) or network connectivity is likely to be more successful. :P

Re:How to succeed in 10 easy steps (1)

pbhj (607776) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526310)

Interruption of power (if there are no generators) or network connectivity is likely to be more successful. :P
But all actual "datacenters" will have redundant power and network connections.

So, you'll need an accomplice to make the best of it.

Why? (1)

Talsan (515546) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525816)

Seriously, what do you feel you offer that thousands of others don't?

A small player is going to have a hard time competing in the hosting market unless you already have a customer base you can turn to.

The average person can get hosting space very cheap, and even professionals can find decently priced plans that will cover sites with higher traffic levels. Remember, even Google is offering hosting these days!

Do you really have anything to offer customers that the others don't? If not, wait until you find a way to differentiate yourself from all the others.

you're a bot. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525920)

I think he thinks he wants to offer his "dumb" friends access etc....

What I really think is that this is the "midstream" of the dumbing down of /.

Seriously, it's like half the stories these days aren't even stories. It's "How do I set this technical thing up.....?" Fuck your friends, tell them to get their own damn internet.

LISTEN!
  "Person" that is technically illiterate: you're on the wrong site!!!!

Re: How to succeed in FOUR easy steps.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525818)

Ooops, that should be FOUR steps. Damn lack of sleep.

Reseller hosting (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525844)

Just buy a reseller hosting package from an existing hosting provider. Much easier and cheaper - all the hard work is done for you.

just don't (3, Insightful)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525856)

If you don't know the answers to these questions, don't get paid to know the answers. You don't want to be a knowledge worker and learning on the job. If I were you, I'd do it for the fun of doing it until you answer more questions than you ask on the forums for the technologies you're using, and swallow the costs in the meantime.

Think *very* hard before you do this (5, Insightful)

wrook (134116) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525860)

My ex boss (in a *very* small company) did this for his friends/business associates. It's a royal PITA. Unless you *can* make a living off of it (and have a good business plan that convinces you it's feasible), I would recommend not doing it.

It sounds easy at first. How hard is it to just whack up a couple of simple web pages for a couple of buddies? Lots of us have one of our own and it takes almost no maintenance.

But what happens when your buddy starts to attract some undesirable attention? For example, maybe you buddy has a car dealership and just wants a quick and dirty website. But he pisses a script kiddie who then spends the next year trying to pull down your server.

Or what happens if the site goes down at 3 am and your buddy just *has* to have it up and running?

Or what happens if your buddy decides he just *has* to send emails from his website when someone clicks on something, and you discover that the package you are using has about a million vulnerabilities and you are now the biggest spam king in the US?

Honestly, it just sucks. Buddies who can't set up their own website are almost always unreasonable. And they will expect "professional service" even if you don't charge them. And they will bug you continuously for completely boneheaded things having to do with their site.

Unless you really don't like sleeping, I recommend backing away from this idea.

Re:Think *very* hard before you do this (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526024)

Your buddies sound like twats!

I maintain a number of small websites ad

Re:Think *very* hard before you do this (3, Insightful)

Bashae (1250564) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526062)

I've had this experience before. Some people, who you may even have known for a long time - they can even be your friends - think that paying you peanuts for a small website and hosting means they have bought your body and soul and you must be available to work on their "small" changes or to fix their "little" problems at all times.

However, not all people are like that. I suggest writing a good disclaimer/ToS and choosing the people who you're going to allow to use the service carefully.

Re:Think *very* hard before you do this (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526326)

Absolutley.

Every friend who has ever asked me for help setting up a website has been even more of a pain in the arse than friends who want their warezed windows machines sorting out. At least you can tell the broken PC people to go to fucking PC World and give them 20 quid to fix it. Once you build a small site for someone, you're stuck with a constant stream of improvements and problems, and there aren't many good ways of getting them to go somewhere else without damaging your relationship with them. Even when you give someone webspace for free they can be astonishingly grumpy when there is an outage.

Hosting a few sites makes almost no money as there are already companies that do this for £3/month or so.

I strongly recommend helping your friends find other people to host their sites - show them googlepages or something like that. Find them other people to do the grunt work building their sites.

Enjoy your free time!

Re:Think *very* hard before you do this (4, Insightful)

erikina (1112587) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526508)

Agree, although for me it has never got to the point of having my sleep interrupted. For a small amount of money ($70 - $200), I've setup a number of websites.

Their pages don't generate much traffic, so I said I'll host it for them and never discussed ongoing maintenance and changes. It's really been terrible. I get emailed (even phoned) all the time (esp. the guy that paid $70). Every week he'll wants something changed, or something modified.

I ended up drawing the line when he decided he wanted fancy roll-over menus instead of the current very functional one. I gave him a (large) quote just cause I was sick of it. We never spoke much after that.

With another, the business (who the site was for) was sold - so when I got in contact with the new owners. I told them, I'd continue to host it and charge a straight amount if he contacted me about the site and plus an hourly rate.

He thought it was very reasonable (after all, isn't it?) and actually has never bugged me once about anything.

The lesson is if you're going to setup a website, make sure you arrange the terms of ongoing maintenance. There's going to be a lot of it (esp. if you're doing it for free).

The other lesson would be don't do deals with friends. You'll both have completely different expectations of each other - and very well might ruin your friendship over it (unless you're a better person than me, and enjoy helping more than I do).

These days, if people want me to do any work - I tell them I don't know how. It really isn't worth it.

Here's what I do (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525900)

I run a gridserver account at Media Temple, $20/mo or $200/yr. Set up websites with 1-click apps like Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress or any other easy to use free PHP CMS. Wordpress is easy to modify and has a very large range of plugins and templates to work from. You can set up webmail access on MT servers as well as FTP and SSH and permissions for additional user access to your main server account if need be. Many other Hosting Companies have similar systems available or more. I have over 10 webpages on my server account and am barely scratching the resources so far.

If I make one webpage for a few hundred dollars, it pays my hosting for the year. Until I use 1/2 my resources, I have no need to upgrade so far.

get management software & people (1)

ddent (166525) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525956)

If you are just starting out, the way to go would be to get a dedicated server with hosting management software such as cPanel/WHM, preferrably from a company that will provide some management for you as well. There is also the 'reseller account' approach but for a variety of reasons I don't really recommend it (e.g. there are more potential and real problems which are outside of your control, and it becomes harder to do your support, among other things). If you aren't really prepared to make the $160-500/month investment for a decent server with some management, you might be better off pursuing a different opportunity.

Warning: You need to differentiate yourself somehow. This is a highly competitive market.

<plug type="shameless">We provide managed servers [omegasphere.net] for a number of hosting companies. You worry about the billing and supporting your customers, we'll worry about your server and supporting you.</plug>

Control panels + advice (4, Informative)

QX-Mat (460729) | more than 5 years ago | (#23525968)

Think. Stop.

It's more annoying than you might think. I've done it, all my friends have done it, my cousin's done it and our dog will be doing it soon.

Don't don't don't. It's a VASTLY under subscribed and overly competitive market. Once you think you're the best, and you're successful, you become too reliant on a core group of customers who won't last for ever.

There are reseller accounts available with lots of ISPs, but few are on a commission basis (ie: you're the one who has to cover your client's costs and invoice them). Flat fees are usually available to dedicated servers licensors @ £50/m+ - but the market is changing and I'm not at all surprised if they're cheaper.

Plesk [plesk.com] - possibly the worst thing I've ever used. Convoluted backend I couldn't hack on to extend pop-before-smtp the way I wanted.
CPanel [cpanel.com] - the original but very costly 6 years ago when I last used it. Has some impressive addons
Ensim [ensim.com]DirectAdmin - Not one I've used personally, but I hear its ok.
VHCS [vhcs.net] - Freeware. Never used it personally. But there are many OS projects and forks [isp-control.net] out there if you look [freshmeat.net] hard [sourceforge.net] enough [digg.com] ]

Cubepanel and BlueQuartz worth a mention.

Most of these project offer "lite" versions which are free for restricted personal use. The only major difference between the free and paid versions is that the latter has multi-user and reseller capabilities.

I'd recommending taking up a decent Linux or BSD distro with a proven track record of security fixes. "apt-get update" is sufficient for the home user, but realistically, you want to track purely security updates. Consider an enterprise OS (CentOS?!)

Matt

Re:Control panels + advice (1)

Bashae (1250564) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526086)

I use DirectAdmin and it's pretty good. The interface is pleasant and easy to use, it provides a nice GUI for managing accounts/packages and DNS without being a mess (and expensive) like cPanel is. It's also easy to modify it or replace the bundled applications. It's only bad if one is looking for a solution that does everything for the server owner. It almost always requires some manual upgrades and modifications.

Don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525972)

Seriously. Cost pressure is immense in that field. Quality is seldomly awarded. Designing TOS is paramount, with legalese being the first and foremost thing. Security will be a nightmare, you will be under constant scanning attacks.

Know your competitor's shortcomings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23525986)

People are constantly complaining about how bad their hosting provider is or what features they wish their providers offer. I'd compile a list and keep it on hand as a reference of what not to do. Then create a list of the exact opposite and put that up on your homepage as "features".

If it were me (1)

micheas (231635) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526002)

I would use amazon's web services, if the business plan showed that I could make better than minimum wage.

Step one is write up a business plan and price out your hosting costs and try and pay yourself something even if it is a hobby.

Amazon instances have no SLA, so your backup will have to be rock solid (it was going to be anyways, right? so that's not an issue :-)

The advantage of using Amazon is no unused inventory; scale up as you need; and about a seventy dollar a month minimum.

If Google looks like they will make it out of beta before you are going to be ready to launch you might look at it.

Re:If it were me (2, Informative)

certain death (947081) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526906)

Have you actually used their services? It cost me $18.00 per day to run a single instance of CentOS 5.x with approx 1 core and a gig of ram. I can do MUCH better, not to mention that unless you subscribe to S3 services as well, you lose your data anytime you have to reboot. Granted the scaling is great, and the availability of resources at your whim is a wonder, but be prepared to pay for it, it is NOT cheaper than a dedicated server if you run it 24/7.

Like everybody else says (5, Informative)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526006)

DON'T DO IT.
If you want to play with a server environment, get a mainstream linux distro and install it with all the web capabilities from the beginning. Then learn how to administrate it, install and modify php, learn apache control mechanisms, learn about chroot jails, even consider virtual servers (as in VMWare type of virtual).
Then if you're still up for it, rent a virtual solution from somebody else, and play with it a bit more. The costs to entry are very low, but there is almost no return.
Build your friends website by all means, but you're better off hosting it on a third parties hardware, and let them take the strain of running the hosting business. You still get admin access, but all the tools will already be in place.
I've been doing this for years (8+) and I get more hassle from the users than from the sites. You need a call centre just to explain to people that there is nothing wrong with the site, maybe their net connection is down. Or they're not getting their email, because their isp is blocking it, or the page doesn't look right because their browser is still caching it from last month etc etc etc.
I have someone who questioned why their site costs money each month to run. "To pay for the server" I replied. "Oh, I thought that once you had uploaded it, it was out there, on the internet" he replied. *Smacks hand to forehead*
Oh, and if they want to offer downloads, then make it clear that they will be charged for bandwidth, over and above any monthly fee. Do not give shell access out like candy, and don't allow anonymous ftp.
All in all, don't bother, unless you really are a masochist. By all means build sites for friends, but set them up with a host somewhere, and let them get on with it. 90% of people don't keep up with updates to sites anyway, and you get left with crap lying around on your server(s). I have 1 guy who bought a domain name through me around 6 years ago. He has never had a website for that domain. Every year I hit him for the renewal fees and he pays up, but it will never be a real functioning site. He is the best kind of customer. Beware of people who want stuff, especially those who think they know what they want.
Overall, realise that this is a huge subject with many many intricacies that you find as you go along. Do you really want to go down that road, or would it be much better to take the blue pill now and forget about it ?

Good Point (1)

Gazzonyx (982402) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527470)

Great suggestion on playing with servers. I'd just like to add that if you want to actually understand what you're administrating, you should probably start with a vanilla Slackware install. You'll have to build from the ground up and understand how each part of the system interacts with the rest. It'll also "cure" any "fear" of using a command line. Because, let's be honest, usually when things go Very Bad, SSH may be the only interface you'll have, even if it's a headless box in your bedroom closet. Unless you like lugging around that old 17" CRT, have an extra LCD lying around, or don't mind the security risks associated with almost all the alternatives to SSH. Also, once you're comfortable with a CLI, you'll be able to solve problems so much more quickly than using a GUI or web interface.

Not that I have anything against Webmin (I actually love it for routine maintenance), but when I'm putting out a fire, I don't want to hunt around the numerous modules to find the correct knobs and buttons; I want to go straight to the problem and nail the sucker down as quickly as possible and I've found the command line the best way to do this. Especially on a thrashing, very unhappy box, when every other interface is either down or effectively inoperable because of the overhead of the service running it.

Also, you've hit the nail on the head about users who "think they know what they want". If they knew what they want, they'd already have done it themselves. Unless they come to you telling you what they're going to set up and trying to size up your options for it, they will be under the assumption that you're going to set it up for them. The people who really know what they want will come to you and say, "I'm going to set up a PHP-5, MySQL and apache stack for a site with X expected traffic and Y expected storage. I'll need Z throughput with A IOP/s. What package do you have that fits this setup, and what is your SLA like?" Everyone else will ask if you do "AJAX-y web two point oh enterprise stuff".

Billing is the important part (2, Interesting)

houghi (78078) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526044)

I know somebody who started with this a few years ago. When I spoke to him he said the easy part was the technical stuff. The hard part was the administration and actualy getting the money from people.
Then there was the moment he was accepting credit cards and he ended up paying the fraud that went on.

So see that your administration and bookkeeping skills are top

Try these services (1)

toddbooster (1294974) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526080)

As most have already written, this has been done and done well by many. Try 1and1.com, Google, Yahoo, your local cable companies have hosted web services. I use yourwebdepartment.com

Hosting as a bonus (2, Interesting)

Killshot (724273) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526092)

The price of storage and bandwidth is so cheap for the big guys that it is hard to compete as a small host. I make an ok living by selling development and design service (custom premium price stuff rather than cheap pre-made) then the hosting is tacked on as an additional fee.. say an extra $50 - $100 per year.

I have used both Plesk and Cpanel, they both suck, but they also serve their purpose.

Re:Hosting as a bonus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526964)

"The price of storage and bandwidth is so cheap for the big guys that it is hard to compete as a small host."

Perhaps. Then again, he would be offering a unique service: He'd be the ONLY host who doesn't speak Hindi and call himself "Ian".

Ran my own hosting company...Now i'm in catering! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526100)

I did this for a couple of years. And the conclusions I came to were that:-

1. No money in simply hosting sites on a small scale
2. If you offer hosting, over sell your server capacity by at least a 1000% or you will never attract customers. They hardly ever use more than 1% of what they sign up for and won't sign up unless your storage/bandwidth offer is as ridiculous as everybody else.
3. Convert your hosting clients to higher value customers by offering web/graphic design opt-in email marketing services etc.
4. Either write your own services/management systems, keep your free software updated religiously or plan for the day when your free software is exploited and your server is owned by a couple of kids. When this happens your server will get null routed your customers will be angry and you will spend a couple of days at least recovering (damn OpenWebmail!)
5. Be prepared to answer support calls any time any place, no matter what crisis your life is in. Imagine troubleshooting a technical problem whilst on a stag weekend in Dublin!

If you can't do all this yourself, you need a pot of money to get a good team who can, but don't expect to make a good profit unless your added value is exceptional.

I got out of pure IT all together, I've found that it's far easier to get a traditional business off the ground and with the skills I've got my new company is light years ahead of the competition. How many small catering businesses do you know of that have 1TB File Server, there own dedicated web/mail server, asterisk PBX with VOIP/POTS lines etc, and a dedicated 24/7 tech support person with excellent dish washing skills?

Re:Ran my own hosting company... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526994)

I agree with the "don't". We did it in 1994, 1995 and 1996. It was a royal PITA. The solution was to let other people run the PITA part and do the web design ourselves.

1. If there is a server problem at 2am, it was someone else's problem.
2. If there is a connection problem, ditto.
3. The margins were terrible and are much worse now.

If you are doing it for your friends and they are content without 24/7 tech support, willing to work on your schedule, etc then by all means do it, but if you are looking to do it for people you don't know, unless you have a lot of time and a lot of $ (to hire people etc) to invest in starting it, don't do it. :-)

Re:Ran my own hosting company...Now i'm in caterin (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527338)

I got out of pure IT all together, I've found that it's far easier to get a traditional business off the ground and with the skills I've got my new company is light years ahead of the competition. How many small catering businesses do you know of that have 1TB File Server, there own dedicated web/mail server, asterisk PBX with VOIP/POTS lines etc, and a dedicated 24/7 tech support person with excellent dish washing skills?

I don't know of any small catering company with that level of IT infrastructure. OTOH, I don't know of any small catering company that needs anything even remotely resembling that level of IT infrastructure either. Competitively, it's really a wash even though it sounds impressive,

Reseller packages (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526104)

How about avoiding the mess that is hosting your own server and using one of the many reseller packages that are out there.

Yes, they might be expensive and yes you might not have total control over many things but you:

1) don't have the hassle for security and uptime (if it goes down you complain to the host).
2) many reseller packages have software that automate billing and registration.
3) are usually "unlimited" so you can host many sites for your friends at little to no cost (depending on volume of sites registered.

I do it and I find it to be a pretty good way of hosting for friends and family for less than $50 a month.

GoDaddy Premium Hosting Account (3, Interesting)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526114)

Cost to you, about $15 per month.

Depending on how many friends, charge them $3 to $5 per month...

Did this for myself last year, to give myself a big web sandbox to play around in...

Money well spent...

Disclosure: No, I don't own GoDaddy, but I am a satisfied customer.

Re:GoDaddy Premium Hosting Account (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526680)

I had a customer who insisted on using a shared godaddy hosting account. Anytime he ran a script (ie phpBB) it would fail on the second mouse click with an error like "unable to fork() no more threads"

I told him that Godaddy was a great registrar but they had outsourced hosting to some idiots. They didn't just oversubscribe their boxen, they imposed cpu limits that prevented normal scripts from running with just one visitor.

Re:GoDaddy Premium Hosting Account (1)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527124)

Never seen any problems like that from them...
All my websites run PHP5..
Some even take XML feeds on demand, parse them out and display the data in dynamically generated tables...
Never seen a throttling problem..

My biggest problem with them is too many passwords to remember...

(+5, Redundant) to everyone (1)

redtuxrising (1258534) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526136)

You've seen the best answer many time by now. Just don't do it.
"I'm not looking to make a living out of this...
While you're not looking to make a living out of this it may very well turn into a full time job that's not making a living for you. Going in without a good sysadmin at your side is definitely not a good idea. Customer support will *murder* your time over and over again. Unless you have a ton of money for advertising like 1&1 (did you see how many magazine pages they buy???) you won't have much luck getting customers.

Sure, go ahead. Here's how. (3, Informative)

richie2000 (159732) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526144)

Just as a counter-point to all the posters who seem hell-bent on ignoring your question.


You'll need Ubuntu Server, Drupal, Webmin and Virtualmin. All are F/OSS and usable out-of-the-box with large and friendly support communities. Good luck, have fun.

Re:Sure, go ahead. Here's how. (1)

redtuxrising (1258534) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526486)

Good luck, have fun... until your customer needs the dBase PHP extension and you don't know how to compile it yourself (or extract one from an existing .deb or .rpm). And so the time sink begins...

Re:Sure, go ahead. Here's how. (1)

richie2000 (159732) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527348)

"Sure, that'll be $50 an hour until I get it sorted."

But seriously, from his question it doesn't sound like that's the kind of customers he'll be having, he just wants to let some friends setup simple websites on his otherwise idle server. That's more or less how I started out, and nine years and 50+ customers later, no one has still needed more than the basic LAMP stack. Hell, I still have a few with static HTML sites.

Keep expectations low (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527460)

2 stories.
My brother-in-law has a day job that pays all his bills and then some, but as a hobby, he likes to play with computers. Eventually, he became good at running internet servers - strictly as a hobby. He volunteers for a few non-profit charities and worked out a deal where they pay for his commercial internet connection out of his home and he provides web hosting services and web design for free to them. That's $200 a month, fairly high bandwidth and good SLAs from the ISP for free. He doesn't get paid for any of the time doing it. Very low traffic as everyone here says. It introduces problems for his cable tv bill, since the bill for the ISP (also cable) gets confused ALL THE TIME AS RESIDENTIAL. The cable company is constantly confused since he has a commercial account. Oh, after a 2 week power outage due to a hurricane, he convinced one of the non-profits to provide him with a petrol generator hooked into his home. It will run the A/C, fridge and all the computer gear no problem. However, when power is out that widespread, at most the ISP can handle 6 hours without grid power.

The way that I'd do it is offer value add services and use https://www.nearlyfreespeech.net/ as the ISP. Heck, let them do all the server garbage - that's the bonehead stuff that isn't difficult or fun after awhile anyway. Your customers don't need to know you're paying less than $10/month (more likely $2) - charge them $50 and still be the cheapest hosting provider out there. Have a premium bandwidth cost built into the contract - that bumps them to $100/month. A hit from /. reportedly costs about $10.

DONT start a hosting service unless (3, Interesting)

unity100 (970058) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526186)

you do it local, and bring it bundled with website design and development. the web hosting field is rather overcrowded, and big companies are offering ridiculous (and unrealistic) amounts of resources to catch clients. and they succeed. dont count on adwords. adwords's roi is sucking tit since 2004. big corps are paying ridiculous bids for web hosting keywords and its impossible to compete with them. its google's bad game. in order to make more money they increased the weight of bid in ad placement and decreased weight of ad quality, clickthrough rate. result has been disaster for small businesses that have high competition in their field.

by going local you can still do good business. many people need reliable and cheap all in one bundles of web design, domain registration and hosting.

get a linux box, apache, php, mysql, get cPanel on top of it. that is the most widespread used setup. when we take on a new customer its very high chance that they already know how to use a cPanel site control panel. DONT ever think of getting plesk, it has a very shitty and confusing user interface.

Not worth it. (3, Insightful)

Purity Of Essence (1007601) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526228)

I make all my clients pay for their hosting and domains themselves. I'll generally set them up with someone good, and then drill into their heads how important it is to pay the bill on time when it comes around next year. I tried the reseller thing and it is too big a pain in the ass to track down all the money. You end up doing all the work and taking all the risk. Screw that. Leave it to the professionals and focus on site design and implementation.

Don't. (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526246)

At least not yet. Do yourself a favor and torture yourse-- get your feet wet beforehand.

First, set up a bare-bones Linux/BSD box with only the processes you'll need. Rent a dedicated server or a VPS so you can avoid splurging on bandwidth for now.
Iptables, Apache, MySQL/Postgre, Denyhosts (Don't set that to email you. Just don't.), BIND9 and vsftpd are a good start. Chroot users and force SSL when configuring vsftpd, use mpm-itk when setting up Apache (vhosts run as a specific user and users don't have to worry about chmodding scripts). Also, you should probably install Postfix and configure it to only send mail; so many forum/blog scripts use email verification. Now tie all that together with some control panel.

Now that you're done with the technical parts (that I can remember), grab a bottle of Asprin and start advertising. Charge something small like $4/month (don't accept credit) and set up a free service with ads. The goal here is to look like a faceless organization instead of a person with the capacity to get pissed, so automate the hell out of everything and make the main site look like a big, ugly ad for itself with tons of flashy features. Just look at any $5/month host for an example.

After a few months of this, you'll either know what you're doing, or you'll be bald. Get started.

Re: or be Bald (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526702)


Does that explain Steve Ballmer?

Go through an affiliate program instead... (1)

suresk (816773) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526324)

I actually got into this almost accidentally about 5 years ago. My advice? Don't even consider it.

It is a stressful endeavor that has a tiny return. Hosting is so competitive, you'll make almost nothing from each customer. If you know people who want hosting, it is more profitable to signup for an affiliate account with an existing hosting company and refer the customer to them (a lot will pay around $100, which for me at least, was a year of profit).

Your customers will only remember who you are when there is a problem with their website, having forgotten all about you when their bills were due. Seriously, I had clients who hadn't paid their bill in years - I didn't care enough to turn their accounts off for non-payment. When I decided to get out of the business, I gave all my customers 3 month's notice and then turned off my server. I had 3 phone calls in one day from people who hadn't paid their bills in at least a year, irate that their site was down.

Seriously, if you just want to make a little money on the side, just go the affiliate route. It is a lot less work and stress, and you'll probably make about the same amount of money in the end anyway.

Re: phone calls from people who hadn't paid ... (2, Insightful)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526718)


Got it!

Make the support # 1-900!

If they don't bother to pay but then they call to whine, you get your money back. It gets charged to their phone bill, and they probably don't look at that either.

If they can handle themselves silently, they "stay cheap".

If they call knowing it's a charged call but they're screwed and need help, then it's an even-handed deal. ... Oh well, it was a fun thought.

Human Element (1)

windex82 (696915) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526354)

Everyones comments are valid if the human element is removed. In reality people don't choose a service on price alone. They also consider things like how well they like or trust the owner. In reality people will consider their local community.

I had a client who was having ongoing connectivity issues with a local wisp. We tried to get them to be done with the problems (all wireless related) and switch to comcast (rock solid in our area) and they would not simply due to the current standings with the local chamber of commerce. They instead choose to stick it out for several weeks longer than any one else would have. Eventually the wisp tracked down the issue but during those weeks they dealt with a consistent 10% packet loss.

So now that everyone has been reminded of the human element can anyone provide anything more useful than "dont do it"?

My goal is to one day open a home computer shop with some kind of basic hosting for personal email or small business web and email. I spend quit a bit of time staying up to date with apache, bind, mysql, and postfix configuration. Postfix can be easily configured for use of a database back end. Apache and Bind are both dead simple to automate. You don't need anything too fancy for this kind of thing. Small businesses do not require all types of bandwidth or server power though these other posters seem to think you want to open a data center with their talks of racks full of equipment. For what I am shooting for two boxes will be plenty. I'll load balance because the option is there but the second box is just for redundancy not computing power.

I also make use of built in components where possible , such as using the skel directories when creating a user. The skel directories contain all the separate application directories with template files. Then I awk the template replacing the template token with the specifics for the new domain. Each user account is limited to scp/sftp and is chrooted. When logging in it appears to be a full filesystem but they cannot escape their home directories. In the case of the CMS's I use symlinks to point to their chrooted user configuration files. Apache and Bind each have their own template which is awked then I simply echo a line out to the main configuration file to include it (ie: echo "include /var/bind/zones/newdomain.com" >> /etc/bind/named.conf.local) and load the new config using rndc. Apache is very similar except I use a template in /etc/apache2/sites-available then use "a2ensite newdomain" to start the new site. Lastly, the script setups up the database account, creates some databases, inserts information into the postfix database to setup their email domain and administrative account.

This adds the benefit of making disabling sites just as easy because then I can just grep -v "newdomain.com" /etc/bind/named.conf.local > named.tmp && mv named.tmp /etc/bind/named.conf.local. I can also use the built in tools like a2dissite to disable the website and simple sql queries to disable email and lastly using the built in adduser command to lock the shell account. All of this gets done with a script as well.

Learn the configuration of your services and then find the best way for you to automate the creation is my suggestion. Billing is simple, quickbooks is very cheap and is well suited for simple recurring bills for services, including late notices and all.

Make it a community thing (1)

stefanb (21140) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526462)

A couple friends and I are running three dedicated machines, one at a mass hoster, two at the local ISP round the corner. We're all working in the industry, so in general, everbody knows what they're doing. Everybody has root (via sudo) and all important config files are in a CVS repository with commit mails, so everone knows when someone changes something. We all want the control over the main services we use (email, web pages, some VPN stuff), and this way, we can all save a bit of money by sharing the costs for the necessary infrastructure.

The important bit here is: we all trust each other to keep things running and not make grave mistakes.

On the other hand, I have helped friends with technical things they felt they couln't handle themselves, and quite a number of times, they demanded a level of service that would have cost hundreds, if not thousands a year commercially, but didn't want to spend that money. Instead those "friends" assumed I would provide that service for free, since "you do that anyway, and it's really easy for you". Don't fall into that trap.

Most of these responses are from losers and fools (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23526578)

I am not going to tell you any details about how I've done it or with whom, etc.

I will say I am 75 years old, never took a course in any computer program, use Frontpage (oh the humanity! - but it does the job) most of the time, Photoshop, a good text editor (I like Alleycode) plus some Joomla, WordPress and a very good little shopping cart. I seek out and intently use various forums. I have one modest sized dedicated managed server based at a resource that gives great tech support, and another shared server account (likewise). I charge $240 per year prepaid (refund of unused portion anytime) and reasonable prices for site building.

I have clients in 7 countries. I'm not getting rich but it sure beats Social Security. I have a very satisfying retention rate; some clients are with me now for more than ten years.

How do I do this in the face of all the negatives, real and imagined above?

I give very serious personal service. My home phone is on my business cards.

I regularly study and monitor every client's web sites (some have as many as five sites) very carefully and am proactive in alerting them to issues that affect performance and value. I watch their traffic and the email flow and take action when I see a problem.

I deal only with the owner of the business or the top executive of the organization (I have a number of NGOs, some of them famous).

I avoid making presentations to potential clients whom I recognize early on as people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. You can tell who they are because they only want to know the price, not discuss what their needs are or how my services will fulfill them. Let the discounters have them.

Based on years of experience, I never accept creative people of any kind as clients. That means, no writers, painters, performers, photographers, etc. - they are unteachable and surprisingly close-minded. Give me an inquiring, curious and engaqed business person any day.

When I screw up, I make sincere amends that build trust and loyalty. For example, when I failed to prevent an unintended domain expiration, I worked hard at recovery, got back the name for my client and gave him a free year of registration and hosting. He's been with me now for 6 years.

I never speak with anyone without giving them a business card. During a visit to any store or business or any casual encounter, I hand out a card. I give a free year of hosting to any existing client who sends me a new client.

In other words, bottom line, I work at getting customers and I work even harder at keeping them.

Re:Most of these responses are from losers and foo (1)

Danzigism (881294) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527112)

you make some great points for sure. i agree with you 100% about the creative people as well. they are so incredibly difficult to please. they should be making their own sites really! the small business folk that are looking for SEO, and an informative site where people can contact them is all most people need. also, i've never seen a problem using frontpage. you don't want to make your entire site in frontpage, but if you're using it simply to write quick HTML like making tables and inserting pictures, then there's nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

Re:Most of these responses are from losers and foo (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527316)

Your post starts like a troll, but you make some very good points. The best advice for starting a new business of any kind can be summed up in this sentence:

Imagine you are one of your potential customers, and then provide whatever it is you would want.
My current hosting company is not quite the cheapest (although they are very competitive), but their support is first rate. I have the IM address for the owner, and if anything goes wrong he is there ready to fix it. They had a few instances of downtime in the first couple of years I was with them, and for each instance they gave me a month's free service. They've also given me very good service for problems beyond their control (replacing a hard drive for free when the manufacturer of the server refused to honour the warranty, for example).

I looked at switching about a year ago, and gave them some of the quotes I found. They came back with a slightly higher one than the ones I'd found, but which I accepted because I knew that my problems quickly became their problems and had no such information about their competitors. I'm happy to pay a premium for

Some more concrete advice:

  • Make it easy to switch away from your service. If a customer feels that they can leave at any time, they will be happier to stay.
  • Provide personal contact details in whatever form your customers prefer to use. This may be telephone, email, IM, or some combination of the above. Make sure that they know that these are answered.
  • If your customers aren't using as much of the service they as they are paying for, suggest that they switch to one of your cheaper plans, with the option of upgrading later - when they do want to upgrade, they will know that you are giving them a fair price and trust you.
  • As the parent poster said, ignore customers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The bottom segment of any large market is very competitive and only the largest companies can survive there. Look for customers who know that you aren't the cheapest, but are willing to pay for the extra services you provide.

He's not trying to make a living out of this (1)

AlXtreme (223728) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526704)

I know RTFQ is forbidden over here, but the OP doesn't want to make a living out of this. 95% of the comments below easily ignore that and tell the OP not to even consider starting something like this up... where is the geek-curiosity of just wanting to figure out how hosting works? Sure, he might get fed up with it in a year, but at least he learned something in the process.

Anyway, I'd start by installing your favorite distro on your server, installing ISPConfig [ispconfig.org] and going from there. cPanel and the like are doable for commercial hosters, but ISPConfig seems good enough for the project you are describing. Play around with it, learn how it works under the bonnet and throw up a small forum for communications.

If you are looking into making a larger business out of this, go for quality and not quantity. Like the rest of these comments state, you don't want to answer to hundreds of people when your servers go down while you are on a holiday. Go for a few more-complex projects, and offer your own hosting as an extra. Personally I'm doing the same (with hosted redundant dedicated servers, I was done playing hosting-provider years ago) but only for a few customers with large projects running on them. And remember that the interesting part is in building those projects, not supporting them.

2 Words - Reseller Hosting (1)

howlinmonkey (548055) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526726)

I started off doing website design and development for local small businesses. When a couple of them got tired of dealing with their hosting companies, I set up a reseller account over at Hostgator, and offered the hosting as well.

I started a service called "Hands Off Hosting". My customers contract with me to design, develop and host their sites, and if they have any issues, I am the only person they have to deal with. I make small changes for them gratis, and I make a hefty profit on the hosting.

IOW - don't bother trying to do it yourself. As everyone here has pointed out, the market is saturated. Admin, security and support are all going to become huge time sinks, and you can't compete on price or features with the big dogs. Find out what you can do to differentiate yourself and let someone else handle the dirty details.

google apps (1)

coreconcern (891742) | more than 5 years ago | (#23526942)

you'll need to have more on the table than a vanilla set of services and performance. it's quite a saturated market. i don't think i'd waste my time. i don't even host my own stuff anymore since google started offering free hosting. https://www.google.com/a/ [google.com]

Try leasing a server (1)

pcjunky (517872) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527048)

You could lease a server at a place like serverbeach. Costs are low and bandwidth is more than enough. I have started using directadmin on a dell poweredge 2600 and it seems to work great. You don't have to compete on price alone. People HATE the support they get through most providers. Provide good support and don't be afraid to charge a fair price for all this. Most companies/people won't think twice about paying $20 per month for this type of service(more if lots of support is going to be involved). A dozen accounts like this and you have payed for the server with lots to spare. Many of the people who have posted here are correct about the market for cheap crappy hosting being over saturated. So don't be a cheap crappy host.

Bluehost.com (1)

alterimage (1072294) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527058)

Bluehost.com offers "unlimited" storage and bandwidth with their standard hosting package. The nice thing about them, is you can host as many domains under the same account as you want, and I think it's like $150 a year now. You couldn't give each of your customers Cpanel access, but that's probably a blessing in disguise anyway. That way, the burden of doing the hosting can be put on their shoulders, and all you have to do is worry about the customer's webpages all for a semi-reasonable fee. I've had an account with them for years now, and it's been my preferred method of including "hosting" for my freelance customers.

here's how to win (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527202)

the only way to win is not to play.

As a prior owner of a web hosting company.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23527230)

Don't do it.

It may have been a profitable venture back in the 90's, but in todays world of $1.99 per month hosting, it is not.

Web hosting is not a differentiator... (1)

mraiser (1151329) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527244)

...so don't make it a core offering. It sounds like you add value for your clients by helping them go from "no clue" to "I have a website" which is a pretty repeatable sell for the market you seem to be going after. There are no technology requirements for this business model. Small, mostly static websites with limited audiences do not require much hardware. That old Mac Mini on the shelf can host 20 of them. Still, as most of the responses are saying, "Don't do it." Seriously... concentrate on the sales, hosting is an afterthought. Literally. You get to the end of the process and you turn to your client and say, "So... you wanna host this puppy on GoDaddy or Amazon's EC2?"

Seriously, Don't (1)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | more than 5 years ago | (#23527350)

110mb.com offers 110mb (duh) of free hosting. For mySQL and other stuff you can pay a one-time fee. In order to make money in this market, you will have to beat this service. Knowing nothing about hosting or SQL injection attacks, I suggest not doing it.

On the flip side, you can set them up with free hosting accounts...

You will not make money in this endeavor, you might as well give up and go with one of the free hosting sites.
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