As part of the consulting business that I run, I do some web hosting on the side, usually for clients I take from start to finish; those I design/develop the site for and then end up hosting it for them. I used to do this with a box at a colocation facility close to me and it was reasonably priced, for a modest amount of bandwidth I could use. Of course, the major advantages were that a) it had a faster pipe than my cable at home (well, DSL when I was running the hosting out of the house), and b) I had root access (and developed the OS) so could tweak things to my heart's content.

This past week I moved all of my clients' sites and a few of my smaller ones to one of those large big-bandwidth-low-cost webhosting outfits. After all, the majority of "normal" people are going this route and this company has about 10k sites their hosting and the price is pretty good ($25/mo for 400GB data transfer). The problem is a small amount of space (40GB) and lack of root access. =) I've got a reseller account with them, so it's introduced me to things like WHM and cPanel, both of which are pretty decent tools, if you need the point-n-click hand-holding. Of course, doing shared hosting like this (getting a dedicated server there would cost over $300USD/mo, although I'd get full access to the box and 2TB of bandwidth). I don't have enough clients to pay $300USD/mo, however (although that is a pretty good deal for the bandwidth; compared to where I was colocating my box, I'd be paying 2-3x that here).

Anyways, the long and short is it was a nightmare. All of a sudden losing the ability to fix things on your own that you know damn well how to fix and waiting for technical support to do it for you is frustrating beyond words. For instance, I setup a small mailman mailing list. I could send mail to it, but it wasn't sending mail out. Now, if I had root access to the box I could have fixed it in 5 minutes. Nevermind they're running CentOS which I've never looked at. I'm familiar with mailman, and I'm familiar with exim.

It took 2 days for them to fix it with multiple "it's working now" and multiple "like hell it is" interactions.Beyond the problems with mailman, I have no ability to use suhosin (which they've been trying to get enabled for a few days now... works with PHP4 but they can't seem to make it work with PHP5), I don't have access to the MySQL5 databsae server (despite repeated "it should work now"), I had them assign me to a shared IP on the system when I should have had my own dedicated IP (which was a severe PITA to correct since they insisted I needed to move all 27 domains after I had configured them.. and then they did it when I was asleep and not when I asked them to), they had spamassassin misconfigured so it didn't put headers in emails, one of my domains had an external MX entry and it was being routed to the local account associated with that domain instead of to the external MX like it should have been)... the long and short is I was freaking out multiple times this week.

The problem is that most of the clients I have are friends or people I have a good working relationship with (or both). I'm not so concerned about losing money, but I am concerned about pissing off people that I'm usually on very good terms with and have had exceptional service from me for years. But, I think, for the most part (other than mysql5 and suhosin, neither of which are absolutely necessary any longer), it's done. All my clients are there, and my "minor" domains are there too. For the simple stuff, it works fine (now).

Although I tried to put mediawiki on there last night for the linsec site and had a helluvatime trying to make it work. In order for me to have it setup the way I want it (with url rewriting, etc.). I need access to httpd.conf. The problem is, I could probably get them to accomodate those configuration issues for me, but I don't want to wait 2 days to get it, and I don't want to have to tell them 5 times in 5 different ways on how to do it.

To that end, linsec.ca and annvix.org are back home with me. I've got a dyndns account, so things like the MX records for the domains are pointing here and looks to be working just peachy. The domains are a bit of an issue because cPanel (whether this is bind legalese or not, I don't know) won't let me set "linsec.ca" to a CNAME, it insists it has to be an A record (which I find wierd, but ok). So I can have the MX pointing directly here, so I should never lose mail, and I'll have to change the IP in cPanel (since they can do the DNS instead of me doing it myself here) if it changes with my ISP which seldom happens, but does on occassion.

To be fair, I'm sure I was far more demanding than most of their clients. I think I had 12 support tickets in the last week. I admit that I'm a PITA and I guess having an experienced sysadmin as a customer must suck on their end because all of a sudden they need to be held up to a higher standard (i.e. my standard) than they would with just a regular joe who made their website in frontpage or dreamweaver and just needs a place to stick it.

Value for the money... well, I think it's good enough. I can't expect everything for that price, and I don't. I do expect competence, however, and I don't think that's too much to ask. I'd also like faster support turnaround on issues that should be pretty straightforward. I mean, really, if you tell me that mysql5 is setup and the accounts I requested are created, I'd expect you to test that before telling me it's working. This obviously wasn't done because I can't login via the CLI or via phpmyadmin. A quick 10s test would have clearly indicated that replying to my support ticket with an "it's good" was vastly premature. That kinda stuff pisses me off. If you're gonna fix something, verify it's fixed before you tell the customer it's fixed. That just plain old makes sense.

Anyways, I won't say who the company is because I don't want to give them a bad name (yet) unless they don't smarten up. They've been appropriately apologetic, and I've spoken with upper management who indicated they were short staffed last weekend and presumably part of the week, so to be fair I'll give them some time to get stuff fixed. But seriously, if they haven't managed to get mysql and suhosin working by next monday I'm really going to have to question the amount of time they're giving the ticket, whether they truly want to make the customer happy, or whether they've got a factor of dolts maintaining these machines because neither issue should take more than a few hours at the most to get working.

Sometimes venting feels good (although, had I wrote about this earlier this week it probably would have read like something from an N.W.A. song or something).