I suppose it’s a natural progression for all web designers to feel the need to be offering hosting solutions alongside their web sites. It makes sense from a practical point of view, and of course it’s an extra source of income. I’ve actually been offering hosting for my clients for a while now, through a friend of mine who has a hosting business, but I’m reaching the point where I need more. So far I’ve only really been able to offer my hosting packages to people I make web sites for, rather than to anyone else, which is potentially limiting.
So I’ve been spending a lot of time recently investigating all the hosting options available to me. And there are lots. Buying individual hosting packages from companies isn’t really an option, as there is so little markup that it’s just not worth considering. A reseller package is far more suitable, allowing me to set up hosting packages for people without having to worry about the server itself, which is completely managed by the hosting company. A step up from that and you’ve got Virtual Private Servers (VPS), which gives you a lot more control and room for expansion. Above that is a Dedicated Server, which is a VPS without the Virtual bit. I’ll go into more detail on that in a bit.
There are a lot of companies selling reseller packages, each with varying limits imposed. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of benchmark or standard package, everyone is offering different amounts of storage and bandwidth at completely different prices. That all makes it rather hard to make sense of it all. One company will be offering 4GB of storage and 60GB monthly bandwidth for around £300, while another will be promising 7GB of storage and 40GB bandwidth for less than £120. Go figure.
Combined with the specs and prices you’ve also got to think about the company itself and how reputable it is. I’ve spent a lot of time reading posts on the Web Design Forum, where (amongst other things) people praise and demonise hosting companies. You see, a reseller package still relies on the hosting company for the technical side of keeping the server running and secure and up to date. A hosting company can be offering unlimited everything at a budget price, but if their servers are offline on a regular basis it’s hardly worth it. By the same token, a hosting company with an excellent reputation, such as Clook, can afford to bump their prices up.
Reseller accounts are essentially aimed at people who want to sell web space without the hassle of knowing anything about servers or hosting. It’s all done through a web-based control panel such as Plesk or cPanel, and at the click of a few buttons they can create web hosting packages with no fuss and no technical knowledge. Of course, it does mean that if the customer does have any problems with the server then they come to me, and I have to go back to the original hosting company rather than being able to do anything myself.
So, reseller accounts are good, but can be expensive if you’re planning on hosting lots of web sites. And for reference, my list of existing clients with hosting provided by me comes to 22. Not loads, but enough that a cheap reseller account probably won’t be big enough.
A VPS can be thought of as a bridge between a Reseller account and a Dedicated server. It gives you a lot more scope for expansion and control than a reseller package, but without all the hassle of running a dedicated server. A dedicated server, incidentally, is like owning your own server, except that someone else physically looks after the computer bit; you have to make sure the software is up to date and correctly set up to be secure and efficient, and are responsible if anything goes wrong with it. A VPS, especially a managed VPS, takes some of that responsibility away, because the hosting company will set up all the software for you and take care of providing upgrades and so forth, leaving you free to get on with using it without having to worry about too much technical stuff.
Of course, it’s not going to be completely hands-off, because you do have root access and are expected to at least have a go at sorting yourself out if there are any problems. Limits on storage space and bandwidth are a lot higher than a comparative reseller package though. So as long as I don’t mind getting my hands dirty every now and then, a VPS could work out a lot more efficient and a lot cheaper than a reseller scheme; it would just mean I’d have to make sure I know what I’m doing with the server so I don’t annoy the hosting company with questions all the time! Technically the VPS packages I’ve been looking at are nicely managed, so the day-to-day maintenance will be taken care of for me, but if I’ve got access to everything it would make sense for me to at least have a rough idea of how it all works.
So there we go. Lots of stuff about hosting. I have to admit, part of the reason for this post has been to solidify it all in my own mind. Those who know me will know that making decisions has never been one of my strong points! Writing it all down here kind of forces me to bring it all to some sort of conclusion, which is good because it means there is a chance I might make a decision. With that in mind, my conclusion is that as long as there are no glaring ommissions in my calculations, a VPS will be the way to go. I can transfer all my existing clients to the VPS and have complete control over it all, and have plenty of room to start offering hosting packages to the general public.
At least, that’s the conclusion I would like to make. It does mean I’m making a decision, which isn’t easy, as I also then have to act on that decision. So feel free to comment (please comment!!!) to give your opinion one way or the other. If you have any experience using a VPS or even a dedicated server and can shed any light on what is involved beyond a reseller package, it would be much appreciated.