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Best Way to Start a Website Hosting Service? 164

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the don't-reinvent-the-wheel dept.
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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Best Way to Start a Website Hosting Service?

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  • Plesk (Score:5, Informative)

    by nhtshot (198470) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @02:35AM (#23525772) Homepage
    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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by paitre (32242) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @02:36AM (#23525780) Journal
      Run far, far away from Plesk.

      It might simplify SOME things, but it sure as hell makes other things more difficult.
      • Re:Plesk (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SausageOfDoom (930370) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @05:04AM (#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.
        • by pipingguy (566974) *
          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.

          Excellent point.
        • 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.

          Hosting is, in some ways (as you aptly describe), a "market for lemons":

          http://www.welton.it/articles/webhosting_market_lemons.html [welton.it]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bloodninja (1291306)

      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

    • 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 nee

    • by Jason Earl (1894)

      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.

  • 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 (Score:5, Informative)

      by SimGuy (611829) <kevin.simguy@net> on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:14AM (#23525930) Homepage Journal
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Enleth (947766)
      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
      • Have you tried using cPanel 11? It's much (much) nicer than the older versions, more consistent, better UI, faster and more intuitive stuff in /scripts and so on.

        Not perfect, but a lot better than 10 was.
        • by Enleth (947766)
          No - because no host I have to use does. That's the problem with such applications and there's nothing you can do if you can't afford a dedicated server. Hell, even collocation would do, but it's nearly as expensive.
  • by name*censored* (884880) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @02:42AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by lukas84 (912874)
        Symantec has proven that you can make alot of money on that market without a decent product.
        • by Baricom (763970)
          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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WereCatf (1263464)

      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?

      • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:21AM (#23525970) Homepage
        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.
        • by stevey (64018) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @05:50AM (#23526510) Homepage

          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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Binkleyz (175773)
      You forgot:

      5) ????
      6) Profit

      Someone was bound to do it, figured I'd just get it out of the way...

    • by SimGuy (611829)

      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
      • by pbhj (607776)

        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.

    • Naah.

      1. Set up Windows 2000 Server with no service pack.
      2. Ensure IIS is installed and running.
      3. Turn off all automatic updating.
      4. Before you know it, you'll be hosting "chEEp 50ftw@rez!!"
      5. ???????
      6. Profit!!!
  • by Talsan (515546)
    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
  • just don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by debatem1 (1087307) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @02:56AM (#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.
  • by wrook (134116) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @02:58AM (#23525860) Homepage
    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: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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
    • by erikina (1112587) <eri.kina@gmail.com> on Saturday May 24, 2008 @05:50AM (#23526508) Homepage
      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 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:08AM (#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.
  • Here's a tip... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by syd02 (595787)
    If you want to make a small fortune, start with a large one.
  • 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
  • by QX-Mat (460729) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:21AM (#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
  • 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
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by certain death (947081)
      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.
  • by smoker2 (750216) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:33AM (#23526006) Homepage Journal
    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 ?
    • 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.
  • by houghi (78078) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @03:48AM (#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
  • 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 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Killshot (724273) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:02AM (#23526092) Homepage
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:05AM (#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?
    • 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. OTO

  • Reseller packages (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:08AM (#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.
  • by MadMorf (118601) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:10AM (#23526114) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:21AM (#23526144) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:34AM (#23526186) Homepage Journal
    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. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @04:44AM (#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.
  • 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 w
    • by Nullav (1053766)
      Actually, you could probably do pretty well setting up a VPS service. An upside of this being that you can leave a good deal of the work to the customers, and you'll be more likely to get people who know what they're doing. Though it's a bit more of an investment than simply hosting files, since you won't know what users will do and you'll have fewer users per machine. The only real problem I can see with this, aside from money, is the headache support would be.
  • 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

    • 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.
  • 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 ch
  • 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 co

  • Go ahead. Otherwise you might want to consider chartered accountancy or, perhaps, lion taming!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2008 @06:09AM (#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.
    • by Danzigism (881294)
      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, the
    • 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 s

  • 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 ar
    • What's geeky about starting a risky, annoying hobby where the major challenges are dealing with people that don't know what they want? If I wanted to do tech support, there are lots of places I can go.
  • 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 -

  • 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]
  • 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 do
  • 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 a
  • ...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,
  • 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.
  • Something else, too (Score:3, Informative)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @09:25AM (#23527504) Homepage
    Whenever you start a business, it's a good idea to retain or at least consult with a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction, who is willing to take you on as a client. You might want to structure your business so as to limit your personal liability, you might want to make sure that you're not violating securities laws, you might want to look into 17 USC 512 -- a whole host of things, too long to get into here. And if you're sure you want to get into this line of work, legal counsel is a good first step before you even think of anything else, because you'll save yourself headache later by doing things correctly from the beginning.

    I'm not your lawyer, and this isn't legal advice, but you really should seek some out.
  • For 4 years, I ran a small web host specializing in genealogy, with PC servers I ran at home (Win2000, Apache, PHP, MySQL). My little bit of advice is to be very careful about the type of load your servers will experience. Basically what I found is that I could deliver even the most complex and media-rich HTML sites with good speed, but when multiple users run multiple database-driven PHP scripts, forget it. I realized there's no way I could afford the necessary server hardware, and even 3rd party web hos
  • I have had mine for about four years, and I started mostly because of the same reason. I needed a way to not spend too much of my personal time helping my friends deal with crappy web hosts and horrible domain registrars.

    $15/month got me a reseller account with a very very nice host. When I was just their customer they treated me like royalty, I love their service. The $15 bought me space, bandwidth and access to WHM, the admin side of Cpanel. I was free to slice it up any way I wanted, and each of my customers would have their own cpanel.

    The smart ones knew how to install whatever they wanted without the cpanel automation.

    The rest were self reliant enough so cpanel was actually useful.

    One of two idiots just couldn't pay attention if their lives depended on it, so it wouldn't matter which method they chose.

    The second problem was domain names. Almost everyone was sick of the Netsol prices, but most got burned buying discounted domains elsewhere. Almost by accident I ran into a small domain wholesaler based in India, the reseller account was free so I decided to give them a try.

    They are fantastic, four years later and hundreds of domain names purchased and NEVER a problem that could be blamed on them. Every single problem we have had could be traced back to a bad discount registrar trying to screw a customer out of transferring out.

    The main problem with doing this is that customer support does take time. I made a point of always being available to anyone that used my services. I was always willing to IM or talk on the phone regardless of how stupid the issue was. Because of it my attrition rate is literally nonexistent.

    By "accident" my previous boss overheard that I had my own domain registrar, and that my domains were less than $10 instead of the $35 he was paying.

    Overnight I had nailed a 30+ domain customer.

    The funny thing is that my hosting provider kept increasing the quotas for my plan, but kept the price frozen. That means I still pay my $15, but now I have 10x the disk space and at least 100x the bandwidth I started with 4 years ago. This allows me to be generous when a customer runs over bandwidth and I let it go "just this time."

    They feel like I did them a favor, when all I did was use up a tiny bit of the extra capacity that was not drawing revenue.

    Do I make money out of this? It pays itself, and I get some extra cash left. Many times friends ask me about cheap hosting for a family member, so I usually sell them the domain name and give them a small hosting account for free. If I botch something, I give them extra hosting, if it was a BIG screw up I give them a free domain (I don't remember giving away more than 2-3 domains in the past 4 years).

    I also play with the allowances just to see how people react to it. For example, I may set a basic account so it has up to 5 parked domains (these point to the root of the account), 5 add-on domains (these are stand-alone within the account), etc. This costs me nothing but when they ask nice I say "just because you are a good customer ..." and bump it up to 10.

    Then there are the miscreants. I had one customer overseas, I have no idea where he came from but he immediately bought the biggest plan I had, which was expensive and ate 25% of my resources (and I was not overselling, he DID get 25%). A week later his site auto-shut down due to bandwidth use.

    He came back to complain, I explained to him what he had done. He asked how much. I honestly wanted him to go away, so I offered him to temporarily bump him by 1GB for the rest of the month for $100.

    He said yes, and paid on the spot.

    Less than a week later he was back. Same deal. Another $100.

    $300 later he moved his site elsewhere and I never heard from him.

    Another customer, also overseas, was good for about 5 domains per year and maybe $200/year worth of websites. The problem is that she IM'ed constantly, and for stupid crap. Every week she would reinstall what
  • by Kwirl (877607) <kwirlkarphys@gmail.com> on Saturday May 24, 2008 @10:32AM (#23528080)

    My apologies, let me attempt to restate my question.

    Let's say I get www.myname.com. That site then becomes a basic directory of sites and games within a given genre. One of the sites that I list then comes to me and says, I would like to sign up and use customer1.myname.com as my site.

    If i wanted to give them a basic index page with a subdirectory, provide a forum, photo gallery, their own updatable news/info page, etc.

    I'm not talking so much about web hosting as pre-built packages to allow them their own site within my existing one.

  • by epe (851815) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @10:34AM (#23528098)
    I have been running a hosting service for 6 years now. We are quite happy with the incomes.. ok, if you only see that you are earning a lot, then you are done.
    however it is not easy to:
    1- wake up at 2AM because a customer in Spain (we are in latin america) screwed the whole system
    because of some sort of rabbit process or 2- same.. with databases going wild and crashing
    3- customer calling EVERY day with problems with their emails.. emails that are for sure sent but never arrive... you check the logs and mails are there..just that they somehow never readed it. This is the biggest problem.. mails not arriving, customers unable to check themselves or to read what: quota exceeded, or error dest@domain.com> unbalanced >, or user unknown.. it is a royal pain.
    4- resellers? A royal pain, we are getting rid of them and hosting or direct customers.. resellers pays little, demands huge and move to another service as soon as they find the other place gives them 50c/mo disscount.
    5- invoicing customers? getting payments from them? IT IS HARD. We have a motto: if the customer does not want to pay on time, then he does not consider our job and must be suspended.
    We warn the customer 4 times 30,1 5,7 days before expiration and the day of expiration.. We suspend them 1-3 days after the expiry date... hardly any one can pay before the expiry date.
    The funny thing comes later: "you are trying to blackmail me because you suspended my site", "I never got the mail (we keep copies of the warning mails)", etc... in any case, most of them pays.. quite upset because of "the blackmail".. and I wonder myself.. did they call the telco and say the same things when they forget to pay for the phone bills? And the electricity company? We have detected that some of the customers ask you "reactivate me and then I will pay" this is the usual phrase(ok, in several flavours) to say you: "I wont pay you, I just want to take my site off you and ran away" it is a pain, actually.
    6- spam: oh god.. this is hard... "why Im receiving spam?" "Im getting like 5 spam mails/day, this is unbeareable", etc, etc, etc.. then setup an antispam service (let's say greylisting): "why are my mails delayed for days?" (days, not minutes... they always exagerate the issues).
    7- lack of evidence: NONE of the emails accounts from NOBODY of my company works: This is the most useless phrase I have ever seen.. like if exagerating the problem is the right way to solve it.. at the end, when they explain the problem it is something related to point 3 in one account not in every. We then tend to ignore other claims from the same customer as we know it is a false positive.
    They never call, except for complaining.. your server could be working 24x7 for, let's say 10 months.. then your server hiccup because of a bastard running an unoptimized sql query... be ready, calls will rain... specially the "Im running a 10000usd/hour business, you do not have idea of how much I have been affected by this 5 minutes of downtime" we wonder, in front of them "why if you are having such a profitable business will you run your website on a 48usd/year shared hosting"? why dont you rent us a dedicated or vps? Some of them have rented it.. other immediatly start whinning: oh, money is so scarce, we actually are almost broke, etc, etc.
    profits are nice, in our case... dealing with the technical details are quite nice... we learn a lot, we get in touch with a lot of interesting customers and situations... but dealing with support is a pain in the ass.
    sorry for such a long post... but I was actually needing to let all this shit come out...
    • by Eil (82413)
      I work helpdesk for a major web hosting company and I can tell you that I ran into every single one of those customers myself just in the first month. It sucks, but it is the burden of providing a quality service. Lest someone get too discouraged from the parent's example above, it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of tech support calls go a lot smoother than this. Most people who call in only want to hear that you're as concerned as they are about the problem and that you have or are actively work
  • There are many reference websites on the subject. One I used in the past is http://www.webhostingtalk.com/ [webhostingtalk.com].
  • by PuddleBoy (544111)
    Have no illusions of it being endless fun.

    I have done this for about 10 years now, and the *only* reasons I got into it and stayed with it are;

    1) I was already doing websites for friends and a couple of clients. I had already had a job being responsible for maintaining someone else's servers. ie there was not a huge learning curve.

    2) The company I worked for made the decision to change hardware and software platforms, and sold me their existing gear for pennies. ie no big upfront costs.

    3) I now wor

  • by Kwirl (877607)
    While the flood of bitter and jaded experience has been overwhelming, I appreciate the occasional individual that has taken the time here to actually answer the question.

    I think what the majority of posters fail to realize is that I am not looking to do this as a full time business. I want to learn to do this, because I believe that learning new things is fun and rewarding. I want to do this because I DO have a niche market, as well as people that are already willing to pay me to learn this and do it for
    • by pnutjam (523990)
      I steer all my friends and clients to nearlyfreespeech.net, they make me an adjunct member of the site so I can do setup for them.

      For what your looking to do I would recommend a Virtual Machine. Find a good provider and make sure your "clients" pay you enough to cover most or all of the cost depending on your needs. I think this is much more cost effective then having a racked server in a colocation facility. (unless you really need the power of a dedicated server)
  • Get a server over at serverbeach.com or some place simular. You can get linux servers with plesk for roughly $70 per month and up.

    Both cpanel and plesk allow you to allow automatic account creation, meaning people can sign up on your site and have accounts created for them, auto billing, etc. You can setup different packages i.e. more bandwidth, disk space, domain names and so on.

    Also with these systems it makes it very simple to manage your server. I only host my own sites and use plesk because of how e

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