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View Full Version : Concerns about WestHost for Reselling



LowBlow
08-11-2006, 09:45 AM
I've owned my own web hosting company since 1995. At the height of the .com boom I had about 600 customers. But times are changing and trying to keep up with the dirt cheap hosts is hard. There aren't many people out there willing to pay a decent price for hosting. I've dropped all the way down to about 300 customers now. My methods are outdated (no commercial control panel, very little in the way of user self-provisioning, etc...). Yet I can take a stock FreeBSD machine and turn it into a full blown web hosting machine within a day or so by building the entire application set by hand, compiling everything from scratch just the way I want it.

But these days customers want control panels and bells and whistles and I just can't keep up doing it on my own. So, I ended up at WestHost looking at their reseller plans.

http://www.westhost.com/reseller-hosting-plans.html

They look okay, but I have concerns over the bandwidth, CPU power, root restrictons, and choice of OS. For example on Plan #4 you could have 100 VPS's but with only 300 GB of transfer that is only 3 GB per "account". Not competitive these days. I realize I can oversell and that most people will never even use their 3 GB of bandwidth. But what about the few that do? Then you hit them with a $100 bandwidth charge, they never pay and leave.

A larger issue is some of the posts here that talk about extremely slow control panels at times and older and restricted Red Hat OS (which can hinder compiling your own apps).

I would be coming from a world where I had complete control over any and every aspect of the server environment into a world that is much more restrictive. I am okay with change, but is WestHost? Can they keep up? Do they really know how to get their "modified version of Sphera's control panel" up to speed with newer versions of Red Hat? If so, when?

I am also looking for honest opinion on alternatives to WestHost. I find it extremely commendable that WestHost makes these forums completely public and would allow me to ask such a question. That actually gives me a lot of confidence in them. But at the same time, I don't want to make a mistake and choose the wrong reseller platform and be doomed down the road. I've heard mentions of OLM, Apollo and others. Opinions and first hand experience would be very welcome and greatly appreciated. :)

I've made a good living running my hosting company for 11 years now. But I can see the writing on the wall and it is saying I must change the way I do things or become completely obsolete and therefor out of business. I've even considered sticking with my current co-location facility and simply installing something like Plesk on a new FreeBSD machine. But the cost of Plesk and the add-ons is quite steep. If anybody has any thoughts on this I'd be interested in talking about it.

My last thought is that I may keep all my current hosting plans available and simply add what WestHost offers to my mix. This would work but might become an administrative and billing hindrance on my end having customers spread over entirely different situations.

Hope some of you (including WestHost) will take the time talk about some of these issues. I'm actually quite excited about getting into this, but reading the posts has made me start to think that I'll be disappointed in the control and quality considering what I'm used to.

Thanks you so much. :)
LowBlow

wildjokerdesign
08-11-2006, 01:23 PM
If you have not already you might want to take a look at Jalal's (http://codeworks.gnomedia.com/westhost-introduction/) and Matt Domsch's (http://www.domsch.com/westhost/) sites for some of the advanced stuff that can be done on a WH VPS. Both have done quite a bit to extend the normal things available on a WH account and hold some good tips for getting around the restriction of not having true root access. Unless you where willing to go with a dedicated server I would think you would find the same types of restrictions with any company that offers a VPS environment.

I have not pushed things to the limits that both of them have but have been very happy with what WH offers and the versatility it allows me. The ReSeller Manager is lacking a bit and can run a bit slow but improvements have been made in that area as well as with the SiteManager and they are continuing to make changes.

Some have mentioned the perceived low bandwidth in the past but no one has really ever posted that it has ended up being a problem with them. Most the clients I have never even get close to their limits. :) Even my biggest and busiest has not caused an issue except once and in that case I still did not have to buy more bandwidth on my end but simply reallocate the bandwidth I had as reseller. It was one of my own sites to the "client" did not get charged. ;)

You might be able to get better feedback from WH by emailing either sales or the tech department with some of your specific questions. Although they do occasionally stop by and answer questions on the forum they pretty much leave the forum to use their customers.

I really can't help you much with suggestions for other companies. Although I have browsed some I have always stayed with WestHost. I do have some clients with other companies and from working with their sites it has shown me that I am in the right place.

As you mentioned WH is very open with their forum and allow even discussion on issues that folks see as a problem with their service. I am sure you have seen some of them already and they may help you to determine if WH is right for you. They are very upfront when they can be and have been doing a great job or keeping use informed on any problems that may arise and what they are doing to alleviate them. They may not always jump on the band wagon of the newest technology available but they do keep things secure and I feel have a very solid base foundation as a company to build on. I expect them to be around long after many other companies and this is one thing that is important to me in a hosting company.

jalal
08-11-2006, 01:54 PM
Hi LowBlow

That's a lot of questions... :)

Picking up on some of your points in random order:

I got no idea what kind of customer base you have to look after, but assuming it is a wide mix such as I have, then you have some customers that use close to zero resources and others that would hog the whole machine given the chance. You have some customers who expect nothing more that a web based visiting card and email, others that need media streaming, imap and specialized software.The trick is to provide for all of these with the least expenditure of time and effort on your part.

There are a lot of different products on the market, from free web based hosting through to dedicated servers costing thousands. A WH VPS is small, self contained VPS at a very good price, you can easily offer one per customer. Other companies offer a large, powerful VPS but you have to deal with balancing the various accounts on the server.

So, in addition to Westhost, I use a couple of other hosting companies offering different products.
I use ServInt for a dedicated VPS with true root access and cPanel for all the little sites (maintaining them is easier when they are all on one machine, I can keep an eye on things with automatic scripts), sites that need IMAP (WH doesn't provide IMAP) and sites that need specialized software.
I use Tektonic for a barebones server for specialised projects and system backups, software developement and such.

On Westhost I keep customers that: need their own VPS, possibly their own IP, are big enough to justify having their own VPS and don't need IMAP or specialized software installation. Generally a Westhost solution is low maintenance, cost effective and provides a nice isolated server for each customer. Isolated means less worries about one customer installing something that breaks your whole server with dozens of accounts on it. Its great for ecommerce, forums and bulletin boards.

You are right about keeping an eye on bandwidth, but in practise unless one of your customers gets slashdotted or somehow becomes popular, you should have an idea of what there needs are. I have one customer that does a lot of media streaming, so I do that from another server.

Some folks here try and run more than one customer off of a VPS, but I think that is the wrong way to go about things. It's difficult to handle that on a Sphera VPS, better to go with a server that offers true root facilities.

If you are used to cPanel or Plesk, the Sphera control panel can seem a bit limiting, but I've managed fine with it. It does the job, and I've not found speed to be an issue. If you are comfortable with SSH then that isn't such a big deal.

Up to date software is an issue for all hosting providers. Westhost do tend to lag a bit but some of us on the forums keep pushing them and things are coming up to date. As you point out, a lot of it is to do with Sphera and how well they keep up.

If you need full control of the software on all of your sites, then WH is maybe not your best option. Otherwise I would consider WH a good option for a certain type of site as I've outlined above.

Finally, remember, you have a 30 day money back guarantee, so can safely try things out and see how they go. I realize you don't want to transfer a load of customers only to realize that it isn't for you, but you could open up one account for a month and see.

If you have specific question, we're happy to help out.

HTH

LowBlow
08-11-2006, 02:10 PM
Thanks Shawn, great feedback, I really appreciate it.

After numerous chats with WestHost (and I've been happy so far with their chat staff) I think I've boiled my concerns down to just a few. Here's the main one.

Their control panel is based on Sphera, which runs on Red Hat. Various posts in the forums have suggested that this version of Red Hat is already starting to show its age.

When and how will they ever upgrade the underlying OS that be behind every VPS on their system? It is my guess that they never will upgrade it. As somebody who builds servers from scratch I can just imagine the absolute nightmare of doing such an upgrade.

I suspect it is more likely that they will roll out a new VPS offering and allow resellers to start setting up new accounts on that system. Which is fine. But what about all the existing VPS's? The upgrade nightmare now becomes mine, not WestHost's.

I guess that is a concern in any VPS environment, but I'd like to know how WestHost plans on handling this inevitable OS upgrade. They will need to upgrade their underlying OS at some point to stay competitive. I'm just wondering what that approach will be. I have an e-mail out now asking them this very question.

My other main concern is that I'm doing standing shared hosting right now where if I make a change to how I compile Apache (for example) it will affect all my customers. I like that because it is a universal change. I don't have to make this-and-that change to 5 VPS's while 5 others are still using some other version of a piece of software.

How do you handle this? Do you simply tell customers "Hey, this is what the control panel offers. If you don't like it, leave." (but in nicer terms, of course) or do you tweak each VPS environment to each clients requests (outside of what the control panel can do)? If you do that too much then you have all these various flavors of installations and remembering what you did a year ago to a specific VPS as opposed to another could be a real administrative problem. In my current hosting environment changes affect everyone, so I don't have this problem.

I also see that my post here in this reseller part of the forum was the first one in a month. I can't tell if that is good or bad. :)

Thanks again for talking about this with me, it will really help me make a better decision.

LB

LowBlow
08-11-2006, 02:40 PM
Awesome feedback, thanks so much for taking the time. :)



I got no idea what kind of customer base you have to look after, but assuming it is a wide mix such as I have, then you have some customers that use close to zero resources and others that would hog the whole machine given the chance. You have some customers who expect nothing more that a web based visiting card and email, others that need media streaming, imap and specialized software.The trick is to provide for all of these with the least expenditure of time and effort on your part.

You got it man. Right on the money.



There are a lot of different products on the market, from free web based hosting through to dedicated servers costing thousands. A WH VPS is small, self contained VPS at a very good price, you can easily offer one per customer. Other companies offer a large, powerful VPS but you have to deal with balancing the various accounts on the server.

So, in addition to Westhost, I use a couple of other hosting companies offering different products.


Well, I'm starting to realize that is just what I'm going to need to do. I have to get out of the mindset that I can create an environment that suits everyone and/or get everything I need from one provider.



I use ServInt for a dedicated VPS with true root access and cPanel for all the little sites (maintaining them is easier when they are all on one machine, I can keep an eye on things with automatic scripts), sites that need IMAP (WH doesn't provide IMAP) and sites that need specialized software.
I use Tektonic for a barebones server for specialised projects and system backups, software developement and such.

On Westhost I keep customers that: need their own VPS, possibly their own IP, are big enough to justify having their own VPS and don't need IMAP or specialized software installation. Generally a Westhost solution is low maintenance, cost effective and provides a nice isolated server for each customer. Isolated means less worries about one customer installing something that breaks your whole server with dozens of accounts on it. Its great for ecommerce, forums and bulletin boards.

Thanks for such specifics. I almost forgot that there are people out there who are willing to share what they know. I've found myself crawing into a smaller and smaller box over the years. I'm starting crawl out now and realizing that not eveybody lives in their own little box. Thank you.



You are right about keeping an eye on bandwidth, but in practise unless one of your customers gets slashdotted or somehow becomes popular, you should have an idea of what there needs are. I have one customer that does a lot of media streaming, so I do that from another server.

Right, my current colocation facility where I have two FreeBSD servers that I own charges me not based on total data transfer, but using another method (and I quote) "We utilize 95th percentile of peak average usage over a 30 day period of time. This method is the most fair way for providers and end-users to negotiate billing. We only bill on highest of outbound or inbound traffic, NOT combining of incoming and outgoing like many providers."

They do not charge me co-lo fees or hardware maintenance fees, just bandwidth. My bill is about $650 per month and that is really my only expense for all of my customers combined. When I call them I talk to one of the two owners.

I will probably consolidate down to one server with them and use it for specific types of hosting.



Some folks here try and run more than one customer off of a VPS, but I think that is the wrong way to go about things. It's difficult to handle that on a Sphera VPS, better to go with a server that offers true root facilities.

If you are used to cPanel or Plesk, the Sphera control panel can seem a bit limiting, but I've managed fine with it. It does the job, and I've not found speed to be an issue. If you are comfortable with SSH then that isn't such a big deal.

I've never used ANY control panel, period! :) I am comfortable with SSH but I'm not sure how it relates to the usage of a control panel in this case. Can you elaborate?



Up to date software is an issue for all hosting providers. Westhost do tend to lag a bit but some of us on the forums keep pushing them and things are coming up to date. As you point out, a lot of it is to do with Sphera and how well they keep up.

If you need full control of the software on all of your sites, then WH is maybe not your best option. Otherwise I would consider WH a good option for a certain type of site as I've outlined above.

Finally, remember, you have a 30 day money back guarantee, so can safely try things out and see how they go. I realize you don't want to transfer a load of customers only to realize that it isn't for you, but you could open up one account for a month and see.

If you have specific question, we're happy to help out.

HTH

Thanks again and I hope I can call on you for more info in the future. Very helpful. :)

LB

wildjokerdesign
08-12-2006, 09:57 AM
I also see that my post here in this reseller part of the forum was the first one in a month. I can't tell if that is good or bad. :)

Not sure why that is. Hopefully it means we don't really have any problems. ;)

The biggest "complaint" I have heard from reseller is the difficulty in changing the appearance of the SiteManager so that it matches the look of the resellers site. This is something that must be done through the Reseller Manager and on a per file basis. You have to download them modify each one by one and then upload. It would be nice if this could be done in a multiple download fashion and even better if we had SSH or FTP access to those files.

I think that most resellers are more advanced in their knowledge or of the mind set that they can figure things out on their own so that may be why you don't see too many post here. I think we also often post in other areas of the forum even though we are resellers since the subject we are dealing with fits better under specific categories.

In regards to updating each VPS... using the ResellerManager you have Packages that you create. These packages are then applied to each account. If a new application or upgrade is released by WH you go in and add it to the Package and then have the option to Apply it to all the accounts that use that package. It then becomes available to your users in their SiteManager. It is then up to them if they wish to go in and install it just like clients who have regular accounts with WH have to do. So in a way you only have to "update" once and it does affect all your clients. I am only using three Packages at the moment so it only takes me about 10 mins top to go in and update things when needed. I do have some clients that part of what I offer them is keeping things upgraded on their VPS but then they pay for that extra. These are clients that have no desire at all to get their hands dirty. :)

You are right about upgrading or changing the base system. I really doubt that when they do it will be something that can be done on an automatic level. I think they (WH) learned their lesson with the migration from 1.0 to 2.0. With a reseller account it is pretty easy to "move" and account from one system to a new one. I recently did this with and account of mine that was a left over from the migration from 1.0 to 2.0. You can create a "temporary" VPS site via the Reseller manager and then use SSH to transfer what you need from the old account to the new. Once you have the new account set up how you want you can then activate the new VPS and remove the old one. I spent about two weeks doing it but that was because I was doing a complete revamp on the site. That also included the "homework" so to speak that I needed to do to make sure I was going to get everything I needed and that I would not run into any conflicts with some of the programs and scripts I was running on the old site.

artbuilders
11-16-2006, 10:13 AM
Not sure what you opted for but I did want to throw in my two cents. In regards to their Control Panels... they are pretty bad. We periodically receive upgrade notices but I've yet to see noticable impovement to speed and effeciency. Nothing more annoying than trying to resolve a client's problem and having the Control Panel hang. This is a frequent occurance. However, on the flip side, WH has great support: good attitudes, responsive and timely which is why I've stayed with them these many years. That may not seem like much but they have helped get me out of several jams (including installation of software not offered by WH). I consider WH support as an extension of my own team so I live with some of the annoyances for the piece of mind.

Barbara Moore
11-23-2006, 05:56 PM
WH is the closest in the US that I have found that lets you run a server without the control panel - pity that it still seems to be necessary for some things like setting up php. The control panel also updates the httpd.conf for any updates which needs watching if you usually work with and update an off-site version.

In the UK I host with a small company that is an even rarer gem. They have been having a few problems lately, but even with those little gremlins they still offer more control than anything I have seen anywhere else. It is worth getting a small server there just to benefit from the knowledge of the users who contribute freely on the forum.

If anyone wants to know more, send me a PM.

Barbara