Posted by: Bennett
Webcity has recently announced that we are moving all our shared hosting infrastructure to use LiteSpeed Enterprise as the default web server software.

The majority of hosting providers continue to use the free Apache server, and it remains the default standard for the industry. It does however have considerable limitations, in particular related to security and protection against Denial of Service attacks.

As a result, we have been working with LiteSpeed over the last 2 years to develop an enhanced solution, but one that does not require customers to change their code and that will be as close as possible to 100% compatible with all the 3rd party applications commonly used on web sites.

We have been very happy with the outcome, and have now decided to roll it out on all new servers, and retrospectively on older servers over time.


More details about our LiteSpeed Web Hosting solution at:
http://hosting.webcity.com.au/litespeedhosting.php
Posted by: Bennett
Over the last 13 years, Webcity's primary product has been shared hosting. Dedicated servers and VPS products have been around for a long time, but are simply not appropriate for the vast majority of small business owners. At the same time, more and more people are outgrowing the limits that a shared hosting environment contains, so what is the answer?

In the last few years in particular, visit almost any tech forum or blog and there will be an endless list of people listing various reasons why they can no longer have their web sites on a standard shared hosting environment, they need to run specific modules, or specific versions of PHP, or they have memory hungry apps or simply need more CPU power than is available in a shared hosting environment.

Almost always there is an immediate response from 'IT experts' that the obvious answer is a dedicated server or increasingly a VPS. There is one big problem with this, very few businesses have the ability to manage a server by themselves, even if they have internal IT staff. Running a web server of any sort requires very specialised knowledge and experience, it is simply not something an office IT person can do properly.

At Webcity we have been looking at a solution for a number of years as part of our regular Webcity reviews. We did a lot of research within our customer base to see what they wanted and what they did not want, and we tried a number of technologies. Earlier this year we finalised a solution and have built the platform. We then put a number of customers on it for extensive testing and tweaked the solution to get a final version. This is now ready and live.

The Webcity Private Server is a hybrid of our industry leading shared hosting platform and the latest virtualisation technologies. It is essentially a VPS, you get your own dedicated memory, cpu, disk and operating system, but, very importantly, it is fully configured and managed by us. We have developed a very simple interface so customers can still manage their web sites just as easily as they normally do, but we do all the rest, ie secure the OS, install, configure and maintain all the software running on it and take full responsibility for the server. We provide a guarantee that the server will remain secure and operational 99.9% of the time.

Customers will be able to upgrade to a Private Server without needing any extra knowledge whatsoever, they get all the benefits of a VPS without the significant issue of having to maintain it.

The base price of $49.95/month provides an unbeatable value for money deal, and combined with our automated tools that allow existing cPanel accounts to be migrated and converted into the new platform, will provide customers a very quick, simple and risk free upgrade option when they need it.

For more information, visit the web site:
http://hosting.webcity.com.au/privateserver.php

Posted by: Bennett
We have had numerous product launches in our time, and almost always, the people most excited by the launch are the marketing department. This time, it appears everybody but the marketing people are excited.

Free Online Storage, with no hidden catches or highly restrictive clauses. It's not tied to any particular software or company products, it's not overly fancy with features that just get in the way. It's as simple as we could make it, because that seems to be what is missing in the marketplace but also because it's much easier for us to support, and since it's free, we don't really want to be getting involved with complicated usage issues.

It is very simply a place you can store your digital files. Use plain old FTP, or add it as a windows network drive and drag and drop files. As the server is actually located in Australia, it will be much faster to upload files to it than most free storage alternatives.

So what is the catch? Why are we doing it?

The simple answer, is because we can, very easily and cheaply. Webcity already has one of the largest networks of servers in Australia, and one of the largest capacity links to the internet. It will cost us very little extra to provide this service. We do however see a potential market for more advanced storage solutions in the near future and what better way to prepare for that than by starting off with a basic but high capacity solution.

It will also allow us to introduce our great range of paid products to a whole new set of potential customers.

Anyway, have a look, have a play, use it if you want:
http://www.webcity.com.au/online-storage/

Posted by: Bennett
In December 2009, Webcity launched a hosting affiliate program. It has been something that a lot of our customers have been asking about for a long time, and not surprisingly it has been a very popular product. We already have over 200 affiliates signed up with significant commissions being earned daily.

We have recently made some further modifications to the program and expect it to be a very significant part of our business for a long time. The program only applies to our hosting product range, but pays a very competitive rate. You will earn a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $100 for every hosting sale you send our way. No other affiliate hosting program in Australia comes even close to those sorts of rates.

The reason we can offer such high payouts is because of our very high renewal rate. Our products are very good value and our service and support are well in excess of what is expected at this price point, so our customers just keep on renewing. Webcity reviews our product lineup on a regular basis, and will look at adding more of our products to the affiliate system at the appropriate time.

There is no fee to join, and nothing to risk. Try it now and see how easy it is to earn some extra income for doing nothing more than spreading the word about Webcity's highly competitive hosting products.

To learn more, please visit: http://www.webcity.com.au/affiliate.php.
Posted by: Bennett
As previously mentioned, excessive CPU usage or abuse by certain customer web sites has been an increasing issue over the last few months, read the post below for details.

Since the last post, we have rolled out a number of changes that have already helped significantly. We have now modified the customer control panel to display CPU usage right under the disk and bandwidth usage, ie it is a lot more transparent and clear to customers. We have also added scripts that put an individualised log in each customer's account of any overly intensive MySQL queries their account uses, thus making it much easier to identify and fix MySQL related usage issues.

We have also deployed a script on each server that quickly identifies any user account that is using up dangerous amounts of CPU and automatically attempts to throttle it. This has worked very well, it allows us to avoid suspending such accounts, and instead allows the customer time to fix the cause, at which time the account is un-throttled. This situation is still fairly rare, only affecting 1 in 500 or so customers during their hosting lifetime, but it has meant that we have been able to almost completely eliminate the need to suspend accounts for high CPU usage without being able to provide significant warning time for customers.
Posted by: Bennett
One of the most difficult issues we have encountered recently, ie in the last 12 months, is how to deal with accounts which use excessive amounts of CPU. It is a growing problem for all hosting companies, and the reason is simply to do with the changing nature of the hosting business.

When shared hosting first started to appear, the biggest cost constraint was traffic/bandwidth. The first accounts we offered back in 1997 had traffic allocations of 100MB, with very high excess usage charges. As the telcos rolled out fibre optic cables all over the world, our traffic costs dropped and we were able to increase the limits on our accounts, to the point where today, we can offer unlimited traffic on most accounts.

The next cost limitation was disk space. As people's internet connection got faster, they started to add more content to their sites, started to send bigger emails and stored them for longer. As the costs of disks dropped, it became less of an issue.

Because of this, customers can now put up virtually any size web site and have any amount of traffic going through them, for a very small cost. The result is that the only real limit now applicable to a web hosting account is CPU usage. There are two major problems with this. The first is that it is very hard to estimate how much CPU a web site will use in advance, or even how much CPU a specific component of a web site will take.

The second is monitoring and limiting CPU usage. Unlike disk space which is a definite number and can be easily limited per account, and bandwidth which again is a definite number and provides a cumulative total per month, CPU is much harder to count and varies throughout the day.

A web site may for example use hardly any CPU most of the time, but have massive spikes once or twice per day. Both the average and cumulative total CPU usage for that account would be minimal, but the fact remains that for a few seconds or minutes every day it grinds the server to a halt. How do we handle this situation?

The only way it can be handled is to suspend the account as soon as we notice the CPU spike and require the customer to fix the problem. Not suspending it would mean that all the other accounts on that server would experience problems, this is simply not acceptable.

A further problem is that most customers are not IT experts and will therefore find it very hard to identify and fix the problem, especially if it only arises at random points in the day.

Some customers expect us to fix the issue for them. This is simply not feasible. In most cases it would take 2 or 3 hours for one of our admins to review the web site and attempt to fix it, sometimes longer. The cost to our business would be in excess of $100, while the customer is usually paying us around $10 per month. The numbers don't add up.

If it is an issue with our servers or our network, it is our responsibility to fix, but when the issue is very clearly due to 3rd party software the customer has installed on their account, we simply cannot get involved.

We have been working on a number of tools and changes to our systems that should help significantly with this issue, and we will have this rolled out in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, we have two suggestions for how to avoid getting your account suspended for CPU abuse:

1. Avoid installing any scripts or software that doesn't come from established, reputable providers.

2. If you do install 3rd part scripts, read up on their documentation, most have hints and tips for minimising CPU usage

Posted by: Bennett
The provision of web hosting services has always involved having to 'manage' various threats from hackers, spammers, virus outbreaks and just plain bad software. Webcity engineers and admins spend a very significant portion of their time on tasks related to protecting against these threats or repairing damage caused by them.

Over the last few months we have run a specific project aimed at stopping the increasing number of cases where accounts are compromised through the account holder's home or work computer. This generally involves users getting infected with a virus or malware program which then proceeds to capture the FTP password and then uses it to upload content to the user's web site which does one of a number of unwanted things. Some terms used to refer to these types of infections are Gumblar, IFRAME, JS hacks.

The solution we have developed now scans all uploaded files and looks for certain 'signatures' which indicate the likelyhood of a compromised account. The system will then notify our admins so we can investigate further. This has been running on a number of servers very successfully, and will now be rolled out accross all servers. Webcity reviews the signatures file regularly to add new variants.

This project is in addition to software we have already in place that scans user accounts for other telltale signs of an infection or likely entry points for hackers, such as globally writeable directories.

As of this month, we have also launched a new product, Protect My Site, which does further tests on user accounts. It will scan accounts more regularly, it will scan for obvious vunerabilities, as well as a wider range of virus/hacker signatures. It also scans for outdated software with known security flaws and will email the account holder with all of the above findings as well as suggested fixes.


Posted by: Bennett
Webcity was created in 1997. The internet was a very different place back then, domain names set you back $140 for 2 years, the average hosting plan was $50/month, broadband/DSL was only a concept, and spam was only starting to appear.

The initial concept for Webcity was for it to provide a wide range of internet services. This remains the case to some degree, but we are now firmly focused on the provision of web hosting services to the small business market. Around this core service, we do also provide a full range of services; domain name registration, SSL certificates, marketing products and e-commerce solutions.

In 2001, Webcity became the first provider in Australia to introduce fully cloacked, free URL Forwarding with our domain registration services. It had a significant impact on our sales volumes and was the start of a rapid growth phase in our business.

In January 2008, we became the first Australian provider of clustered cPanel servers. This allows us to easily move accounts between physical servers if they develop hardware issues or to carry out maintenance, thus avoiding any significant downtime or outage.

In July 2008, we moved our office to new, custom built premises in Parramatta, including a dedicated NOC and helpdesk centre. One significant outcome of this move was the reduction of our phone hold times from around 4.5 minutes to just under 1 minute. In January 2009, we extended our phone support coverage to 24/7.

Our customer base has grown at over 25% a year for the last 6 consecutive years, and we now get 70% of our sales from word of mouth. We currently experience a customer retention rate of 96% on our hosting products (excluding dead accounts).

As a result, as of June 2009, Webcity is Australia's 2nd largest retail hosting provider.

We would very much like to thank all our customers for trusting us with the business and for their ongoing support. We hope to continue to meet and exceed your expectations for a long time to come.

Bennett Oprysa
CEO