Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is overselling?

Overselling is a marketing gimmick which many hosting companies use, where you are promised far more resources than the hosting company has available, designed to entice clients to their servers. For example, unlimited amounts of disk space and bandwidth for very low prices are the hallmark of these providers. If you’ve been looking for a hosting plan recently, you’ve likely seen the various advertisements and offers promising "Only $6.95 per month! With Unlimited storage, Unlimited bandwidth, Host Unlimited Domains!"Or from another popular hosting company: "150GB space, unlimited websites and bandwidth". This is overselling in its finest.

Anatomy of the Oversell

Let's look at an example: A hosting provider rents a dedicated server with 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD and 2TB monthly bandwidth, which costs $200 per month. Now this hosting company is selling hosting packages for $7.95 with 150 GB disk space and unlimited bandwidth (which by the way, is nowhere near the extreme for many hosting plans). Those who understand basic math immediately recognize that if the host allows only three users to use the resources he or she has purchased, the hosting provider would have used almost his entire hard disk and would have exceeded their monthly bandwidth on the server, with only three clients paying $7.95 a month, for a total of $23.85. So, what do these providers do? They have to pack as many customers on that server (often up to 1000 or more are on a single server) hoping that clients never actually use the resources they've purchased.

How overselling impacts your hosting experience?

Account Suspension/Termination: A host that oversells counts on you never using the resources which you paid for. However, your business depends on reliable service, and you don't want to run the risk of having your web site shut down all of a sudden. If you run a blog, forum or online store, you'll likely see a significant increase in your traffic if you advertise, or you’re in-store clients begin visiting your web site. The companies who oversell have numerous restrictions in place, where if you reach any of those restrictions you run the risk of your hosting provider enforcing their restrictions, often times suspending or terminating your account. When your account is suspended or terminated, 1) visitors can no longer access your account, and 2) you lose your entire site, unless you have recent backups. Your web site is your business on the internet, and this would be similar to your physical business location being shut down all of a sudden.
Frequent migrations: The more popular your site gets, the more your hosting provider will push you to get either a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or a Dedicated Server, which can get pricey for many small businesses. Or, as has happened too many, the host may migrate your web site to a less used server, which requires you to change the nameservers on your domain name, which can take up to 72 hours to make all the changes across the internet, essentially putting your online business OUT OF BUSINESS for a period of time.
Slow Site Performance: As mentioned above, with often hundreds, or even thousands of sites competing with you for valuable resources you may see a very noticeable degradation of service. Let's look at it this way: you have 10 homes all receiving their water from a garden hose. If you are the only one using the water, you have really good water pressure, but if your neighbor turns on their water, your water pressure is cut in half, if another neighbor turns on their water, you are cut in half again, and so on and so on, until you are down to a trickle or only a drip of water. The fact is, the more web sites that are hosted on a single server, the greater the decrease in site performance, and a decrease in site performance can mean a loss of business.
Exposure to malicious users: Cheap hosting, especially those with cheap packages offering everything, are very attractive to spammers and other users with less than admirable intentions. They can get in on the cheap, and run their scripts run without any accountability. Most hosting providers monitor for sites like these, but it's not fool proof, and even if a spammer can run for only a couple of days, they've done what they wanted CHEAPLY, while impacting your business, because the IP (Internet Protocol) address for that server could get listed in the spam directories, which means that legitimate emails from your business may get flagged as spam by the spam directories.

What can you do?

First and foremost, if you are running a business website, avoid the cheap offers promising you everything under the sun. Keep in mind that in the web hosting industry, more isn't really better, but could be opening you up to a whole big mess.
Look for a company that states that they DON'T oversell their server resources. Hosting your business web site with a hosting provider who doesn't oversell gives your business a greater chance of not being shut down, and a greater chance of not seeing a degradation of service.
When you get a web hosting account, take a look at the server stats, or even ask the provider prior to signing up. At Obsidian Moon Hosting we'll tell you our server stats upfront. We aren't afraid to tell you what our server load is, and we're proud to say that our average has been less than 1. What the server load means is how may processes are waiting in the queue to access the processor(s). The smaller the number, the better.
The next thing to look at is the amount of memory used. Just as with a computer, the higher the memory used the more potential problems that you're going to see. We've encountered web hosting companies who run servers at 98% or greater memory usage. Again, the lower the number, the better. At the time of writing, Obsidian Moon Hosting's server is running at 13%.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Joomla vs WordPress - Why we use Joomla!

We've been asked by numerous people WHY we chose to build our sites using the Joomla! Content Management System, rather than other popular options available today. This has been a while in coming, but I'm going to answer this. I know there are likely to be those that will disagree with me, but these are our reasons, and you're welcome to comment.
We've been designing websites for over 12 years, not using "drag and drop" software like many use today, but hand coding line by line. This was a tedious and time consuming path, but we believed that you would get cleaner, more professional code for the website, than using "drag and drop" software which typically inserts a bunch of code that is worthless in the given situation. or formats the code poorly. The problem with hand coded websites, and even HTML websites that are designed using web design software, is that most business owners and clients that we've had, wouldn't know the first thing about making changes to their site. The plus side for a designer is that they can maintain control of the pages, and require the client to rehire them to make changes, charging anywhere between $75 to $200 per hour to make even the simplest of changes. It's a goldmine, and pretty much guaranteed repeat business.
About 6 years ago we made the decision that, although we were HTML professionals, we wanted to design our sites to where they we flexible, powerful, professional, and would allow our clients to take ownership in their website, but having a platform that would allow our clients to easily make changes, or add additional content, without having to learn programming.
We knew that database driven sites were the way to go, but which one to choose, with so many options available, such as Joomla!, WordPress, Drupal, Xoops, ImpressCMS, Mambo, PHP Nuke, OpenCms, phpWebsite, Typo3, and more. We made the decision that the software we focused on needed to be 1) open source, since open source software tended to receive updates and enhancements more often than commercial, 2) Flexible. Not all sites are created equal, so we wanted a system that had an active developers community, active user forums, and enhancements for anything you could pretty much think of, 3) Content Management. Since the content on the sites would be managed by the clients, a content management system would be the best way to go, 4) actively updated, and 5) powerful. We wanted powerful software so that the software could handle the simplest of sites, to the sites requiring more power behind it, such as ecommerce websites, or Real Estate sites.
Shortly after testing several of the options above, there were pros and cons of each, for various reasons. For the sake of making this blog as short as possible, we'll focus on Joomla! and WordPress.
WordPress is very popular now days, so the question "why don't you use WordPress" is a valid question. We've looked at offering more websites using WordPress, but we again discounted WordPress for the majority of clients we meet. The reason: "WordPress started as just a blogging system", taken directly from the WordPress website. Granted, WordPress has been enhanced over the years, and is being touted as a content management system, but the underlying "engine" is still a blogging engine. Reading comments from a WordPress developer, WordPress is the easiest to use system available on the internet today. However, it can be a nightmare for developers since many times the whole system is likely to crash when trying to make modifications.
Wordpress uses a "per-view" structure in their theme structure. Although this allows designers to design different looks for different pages, the downfall is that this structure requires the duplication of many parts of the code. The WordPress themes utilize a hierarchical structure, which has generic views that are used as fallbacks.
Joomla! is equally popular today, but downplayed by many "web designers" today stating that it's not as user friendly as WP. Although I can agree that Joomla, "Out of the Box", can be intimidating, the power, flexibility, and extensibility behind Joomla is phenomenal. Many large businesses have chosen Joomla! over WordPress because of the power and extensibility available that rivals that of WordPress.
The theming structure (known as templates) uses an html and tagging system for different page renderings. The Joomla! template, and extension, architecture uses the MVC (model-view-controller) software architecture, which has become a standard in software engineering. The MVC framework utilizes a more logical approach to design, isolating the application logic for the user from the user interface, which allows for a separation of the design architecture from other parts of the system.
To sum things up, we chose Joomla! due to it's more standardized architecture (MVC), active community, and the ability to service any business, whether small or large, from a single piece of software. True, we could build sites using WordPress and Joomla!, and we did set up mytakeonlife.com using WordPress, but if you're focusing on multiple software architectures, it makes it more difficult to keep up on changes and new add-on that come out regularly, which means there's a greater liklihood that something new, and greater, could be missed.

Upgrade Immediately

If you're running any Avast anti-virus software (at least Windows versions) it's imperative that you update your Avast program IMMEDIATELY. We recently encountered a problem with the most recent update that was blocking every web site on the internet, stating the site was infected with Malware or a Trojan Horse.
A complete scan of our computers identified HTML files being detected by Avast as "infected", even files from Adobe and Quickbooks. Even "blank" HTML files, which made things even more suspicious.
So, I surmised that the problem had to be with Avast giving false positives, and forced Avast to update the program immediate (definition files were up-to-date). The update program option updated Avast from 5.1 to 6.0 and, lo and behold, everything is running with no problems.
So, if you're running Avast, UPDATE IMMEDIATELY!!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Death by Facebook

In the world of Social Media Facebook is by far, and without a doubt, the most powerful player at the present time as far as Social Media goes. A single post on Facebook, shared with your friends, can be before thousands of people within a matter of minutes.

Such is the case of what happened recently with Jeff Dukatt, owner of Dukatt '71 in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Jeff Dukatt recently contracted with Obsidian Moon Creations to give the website for his business a complete overhaul. The same day I received the signed contract, deposit, and CDs with images in the mail, Jeff called to let me know "I'm not dead!".

The story behind the statement "I'm not dead" is quite the ordeal, and shows the power of Social Media, but also how something, whether true or false, can go viral.

"As you may or may not know I, Jeffery Dukatt, am not dead!" That is the line that starts out an article in both the Sierra County Sentinel and The Herald newspapers. What transpired is that a known man on a Thursday morning told someone at a local grocery store that Jeff Dukatt had had a heart attack and died.

The same day, this individual told someone at another store the same thing. The man at the second store called his girlfriend and passed the rumor on to her. She, in turn, "posted the information on Facebook, which was seen by several of her friends", including a reporter who passed the information along. From there, the information went viral.

Jeff was out of town at the time, and was out of cell phone range (which is common place). When Jeff once again had cell phone coverage, he had over 40 calls on his voicemail, many of which were hang-ups, but one call was from the Truth or Consequences Police. Upon checking with the police, they were doing a "welfare check" due to numerous calls they had received that Jeff Dukatt had suffered a heart attack and had died.

From customer, friends, a priest, local police, state police, and even border patrol agents, so many had heard that Jeff Dukatt had died of a heart attack. To think that this all started with one man telling someone, who called his girlfriend, who posted the information on Facebook shows the power behind Social Networking.

We've all heard the stories about the teen that committed suicide. Something like this makes one wonder if a rumor may have been started about that teen, it was posted on Facebook, which totally destroyed the teen, which resulted in his committing suicide. A simple Google search supports this theory. USA Today has a story about a teenage girl that committed suicide after nine teens bullied her on Facebook. Another in The New York Times reports another teen suicide due to activity on Facebook. Reuters has an article titled "Teen suicide put spotlight on high-tech bullying".

We live in a high-tech, digital age where information is quickly at hand, and information can be spread around the globe within minutes. What we need to do is not simply pass information along simply because someone sends it to us, and asks us to forward it. The responsible thing to do would be to actually CHECK OUT THE FACTS. Did this recent "Death by Facebook" destroy Jeff Dukatt? Not at all, but it did make is life quite a bit more interesting over the following few weeks with people from around the country calling his cell phone and store to see if the rumor, spread over Facebook, was true or false. In the end, the girl who posted the initial blurb on Facebook, recinded the statement and apologized, but by then the "damage" had already been done.

When reading something, or posting/forwarding information, be sure to check the validity of what you are posting. And don't just check with the person that sent it to you, but contact the person it's about. Rumors and gossip need to stop.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same? -- Pt 6

So, after our various problems that we had with different web hosting providers, we made the decision to invest in our own hardware, and offer hosting services ourselves.

Over the past year we've upgraded our server three times keeping up with the increased demand from your clients. Our current server platform has an Intel Xeon Quad Core 2.4GHz Processor, 4 GB RAM, 8MB Level 3 Cache, and much more. As the need arises, we are ready and willing to continue to upgrade our hardware.

We monitor the activity on the server at regular intervals, to ensure that the server is running optimally for ALL clients, including the monitoring of email blacklists and email reputation scores. We also have installed on our server, at NO ADDITIONAL COST a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-malware detection software. These are features not found on servers provided my most web hosting companies, or if they do offer these features they charge you additional fees.

Not at Obsidian Moon Creations. We offer fast, reliable, high quality, secured web hosting for LESS THAN $4.00 per month. All of our hosting packages include cPanel, one of the most popular web hosting control panels in the industry today. With our system, there is no waiting for 30 minutes to several days to have a database or FTP account created, such as is true on some other big hosting companies. Your requests are processed IMMEDIATELY, so you aren't wasting time waiting for the changes.

Further, where many hosting companies SAY they offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee, they choose not to actually show you the uptime. That isn't the case with Obsidian Moon Creations. We proudly show our uptime right on our homepage, monitored by a 3rd party monitoring service.

For your hosting needs, why not look at Obsidian Moon Creations for that fast, reliable, affordable hosting that you, and your clients, deserve.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same? -- Pt 5

Today I'm going to wrap up our experiences with the last 2 providers that we encountered.

After the last provider, we decided that we wanted to provide our clients with Green hosting services, providing services that were more friendly to our environment. We went with a provider that was highly rated in webhosting reviews, and were green. Initially, this provider had decent services, but over time we started noticing emails bouncing back with responses that the IP address was blacklisted. We did some research, and found that the IP range has recently been blacklisted. We contacted the support department, were told this was resolved, but there was never any change to the blacklists. Then, little by little features were disappearing from the hosting control panels. The attitude of support was take it or leave it, but with a feature such as backups being removed, this caused great concern.

So, we switched to another provider, which was an even worse experience. In short, in the 1 month that we were with them, our uptime statistics went from 100% to 95%. Of course, this was unacceptible, and that is when we decided to invest in our own architecture, and handle and maintain our own hosting services, with the intent to NOT do what these other providers were doing.

Tomorrow we'll talk about some of the features that we offer, and have enabled, that none of these other providers offer.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same? -- Pt 4

OK, I'm fighting the onset of a cold right now, but want to get today's blog in.

The second company that we worked with was great, to begin with. For the hosting space for my clients I was able to choose Windows or Linux. I could create different sized packages, what features, and quanity, etc, but the first issue arose when a client wanted to upgrade their account. There was no easy way to allocate additional resources for the client besides creating a whole new account and moving everything. The second issue arose when technical support told me that a particular function that I was trying to use was available, then another rep telling me something to the contrary.

Once again, our clients deserved better. Plus, this company's proprietary system was difficult for some people to understand. Ease of use, and easy to understand are very important. Accurate information is of utmost importance as well.

So, once again we were off to find another provider. How was this one, compared to the others? Find out tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same? -- Pt 3

Whoops, it's after midnight. I was busy working, but even though it's 12:20am, I wanted to take a couple minutes to write the short blog for Wednesday (even though it's Thursday now).

As stated I was going to talk about some of the experiences that we went through with other companies, which resulted in our starting the web hosting division of Obsidian Moon Creations. Also as stated, no names will be mentioned, for obvious reasons.

The first web hosting reseller that we started with, to offer hosting for all of our clients, was one of the companies that, for their regular clients, offer unlimited everything in their hosting package, and offer a free domain name with the hosting package. It had sounded like a pretty good deal at the time, but in hindsight we should have seen all of the stuff they were throwing in the package for free; it should have rang the "gimmack" alarm.

This company's servers were overloaded. In cPanel, I was able to get in and see that the RAM was at almost always at 98% (or higher), Server Load was excessively high, and many times my site, and my clients sites, loaded so slow I was wondering if I was on dialup, rather than a broadband connection. When I asked technical support about this issue, they stated this was "normal". Um, excuse me, but if your computer that you use at home is running at 98% RAM used, isn't that a sign that something is using a lot of memory, and it should be looked at? Also, if you CPU is showing high usage, isn't that a warning sign that something is utilizing a lot of the system resources?

After a couple of months of this headache, we decided that we, and our clients, deserved better, which prompted us to move our services to another provider, and cancel our services at this company. Low and behold, they took it seriously and canceled EVERYTHING, including the "free" domain that they offered. When it came time to renew that domain, it was like pulling teeth, with 4 different "customer service" reps all giving me different responses, including one that told me I had to pay close to $400 BEFORE they would talk to me about that domain. This $400 wasn't for any services that I had with them, but some numbers that this one rep threw out. I don't know about you, but that really screams "scam" to me. It took threats of contacting the Better Business Bureau, their local Attorney General's office, and contacting my attorneys before they decided to work with me.

Is this the norm for everyone? That I can't say, but this was a personal experience that we had, which was a serious learning experience is how NOT to do business.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same? -- Pt 2

As stated yesterday, I'm going to continue my blog "Aren't all hosting providers the same?".

A slight change in plans, though. Rather than going into some of the experience we had today, I'm going to explain (in a nutshell) what hosting is. I'm going to use an explanation that I used in my Business Network International (BNI) chapter today.

In the early days of the internet, there weren't hosting providers like are so prevalent today. In those early days, if a company wanted to have a website, they had to purchase the server, the connection to the backend of the internet, obtain IP addresses, and many times have a server administrator on staff. For many companies this was cost prohibitive. However, as the internet matured, some companies realized that they didn't need all of the disk space, or resources, on their server, so they were able to section off the server, and host other websites on the same server. As time went on, we now have the large data centers that are prevalent today, which are typically 40,000-60,000 square foot buildings with rows upon rows of servers all connected to the internet.

Hosting is the providing of the web space, emails, and databases, on a server that is connected to the backend of the internet. These servers are generally connected to a high speed network, which has a multi-gigabit connection to the backend of the internet. All hosting providers offer the above, but what features, reliability, and speed can vary significantly.

More tomorrow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Aren't all hosting providers the same?

If someone does a Google search for web hosting provider, the list is extensive. The question many times is: Who should we host with? I've seen advertisements for GoDaddy, Host Gator, BlueHost, and some of these others, aren't they the same?

Not quite. Many of these companies are big, because they started their businesses in the early days of the internet, and/or spend thousands upon thousands in advertising. But the question still remains: wouldn't it be better to hosting my website is a big company, rather than a smaller company like Obsidian Moon Creations? I'm not going to tell you either way, but will instead tell you about some of the nightmares I encountered with some of the bigger hosting providers.
For obvious reasons, we're not going to mention the names of the companies, but will outline our experiences. All of these providers advertise that they offer a 99.9% uptime, and have "top notch" customer service. At Obsidian Moon Creations, we don't just SAY that we offer a 99.9% uptime, but we actually show realtime numbers right on our website from a 3rd party monitoring service: siteuptime.com, which is seen below.

website uptime

Tomorrow we'll go into our experiences, and what sets Obsidian Moon Creations apart from the other guys.